In Praise of Crazy Teachers
By Sam Graham, LSU
Two assumptions guide how I see others: we’re all fundamentally good and a wee bit crazy.
Two assumptions guide how I see teaching: we should all be good and a wee bit crazy.
It’s easy to see how being good – ethical – helps your teaching. Of course we should consider what our students want or need to get out of our classes and make sure that they can get this. Why not be compassionate, aware of and empathetic about the troubles of learning and being a student?
Sometimes we’re not as good as we’d like to be. We get busy and tired. Institutional frameworks have us do things that we don’t always think are best.
Still, though, it’s uncontroversial to aim to be good as a teacher, tempered as this goodness might be.
Being crazy as a teacher isn’t so accepted.
What do I mean by crazy?
I mean being a bit different. Believing things that most others don’t, doing things that others haven’t, liking things that others have no interest in and seeing the world uniquely.
I don’t mean hearing voices or throwing tantrums in class, and I don’t mean simply acting the fool.
Brightly coloured socks – of which I own many – don’t cut it either.
We forget most of what we learn at university or school (link ) and we’re left with meta-lessons and personal lessons. The meta-lessons come from watching an expert teacher work through problems (as described in this article linked to in the Top 5 #27), and the personal lessons come from people who are a bit different or do things a bit differently.
I loved teachers who offered a bit of themselves, professional or otherwise. Talking with my students, most students do too. I found my microeconomics tutorials far more interesting when the tutor told us about her studies of pricing in fish markets. High school social studies meant more when the teacher – who incidentally had the most glorious beard – shared stories of his partially completed goal to see for himself the remnants of all the world’s ancient civilizations.
So why don’t we show our craziness?
There’s pressure against imposing ourselves – our opinions and world view – on students. However, students – especially those at university – are a lot more developed than a lot of us give them credit for. Perhaps it’s patronising to think that they will be so easily swayed (manipulated?) by what we think.
It can also be seen as arrogant to overlay the curriculum or planned teaching materials with your perspective. But curriculums and fields of study themselves necessarily hold a world view. Anyway, the curriculum was either written by someone who is as crazy as you or who is unbearably boring.
Some are reluctant to mix their personal and professional lives. Fair enough, but showing some of our oddness can be from your professional rather than personal self. If you’re not comfortable sharing your bonsai tree obsession (and it’s hard to see how this would be relevant), share your professional quirks
Although I mightn’t reach such levels of awesomeness, and although I can’t think how academic skills could be so visually engaging, I do aspire to be just a little like this MIT professor: