January 23, 1996

From Gerald R. Lucas

Class Activity on Ernest Boyer’s “Preparing Tomorrow’s Professoriate”

1. Make a list of outstanding teachers you have had in your education, teachers who truly changed your life. For each specify in what ways the teacher changed your life.

Elementary: Mrs. Wallace taught me that I would have to bust my butt to succeed in life, or at least in her class. A large, imposing woman, Mrs. Wallace frightened students into doing their work, but remained open and approachable.

Middle School: Mrs. Farmer: I don’t remember the title of the class (social studies?), but I remember Mrs. Farmer. As she entered the room on the first day, she locked the door and proceeded, sergeant-like, to explain to us her rules. She was intimidating at first, I later learned, to make the students aware of who, indeed, held the power, but later she became caring and warm with all of her students. She introduced us to Greek myth and the epical tradition, topics I still find fascinating.

An ex-Army officer, General Casey was a calm, dignified man whose very presence commanded respect. Atypical of ex-military commanders, however, General Casey was kind and warm-hearted and made our pre-Algebra class fun, rewarding, and memorable through his enthusiasm and thoughtful approach to the subject.

High School: Mr. Savage was the love of the school. He approached trigonometry with a comic savoir faire that taught us the practical aspects of mathematics and showed us how they could also be amusing. Mr. Savage made the class a community more than any other teacher I had ever had. We were so motivated and enthusiastic about our problems that people who were otherwise incompatible would congregate to graph cosines. Fortunately Mr. Savage secured a job at the community college I attended and I was able to again laugh through College Algebra.

Mr. Westfall was a fantastic drama instructor, one who was passionate about the theatre and transferred this passion to his students. He made such theatrical “classics” as Our Town and Death of a Salesman come alive by his performance of them. He inspired all of us who were fortunate enough to know Mr. Westfall in the Theatre Guild to become actor in the world— to live as passionately as we did on the stage. I recently found out the Mr. Westfall had been accused of making sexual advances toward a freshman. I, for one, cannot believe such allegations. I believe that Manatee County lost one of their best teachers.

2. Boyer believes that strengthening the role of teaching assistants is crucial to higher education in America. From your perspective, indicate how this can be done generally and specifically.

Any attempt must begin with education. Boyers suggests the adoption of a colloquium by all universities in an attempt to educate their graduate teaching assistants; this seems like an excellent, logical first step. This approach should have several effects. The existing professoriate will reexamine their conceptions of what effective teaching really is to ready themselves to indoctrinate the new assistants; this process will hopefully improve their traditional approaches to pedagogy. Secondly, the future professors will benefit by the offering of sundry approaches and will not be blindly pushed into the classroom like a Christian into the Coliseum. The overall effect will be a better experience for the entire university: the tenured professors, the new instructors, and, most importantly, the students. Specifically, avant garde and traditional approaches to pedagogy should be presented to new instructors, as well as practical experience in the classroom—people should be allowed to make their own mistakes. These mistakes, however, should be approached analytically by the instructor, his peers, and his students in an effort to make his performance better in the future.

3. Looking back at your own educational background, describe the “traditions” which have influenced your training and discuss how these traditions may be influencing your current educational thinking and practices.

In examining my own influential teachers, I find that they are all fairly traditional in their approaches, i.e. they all use lecture methods to instruct. Of course, many asked questions in class, yet rarely did they give students time enough to answer; many probably did not want the students to answer. All of these teachers, however, cared about their students and showed the proper wisdom and enthusiasm necessary to promote learning.

Rarely do I remember my most influential teachers employing alternative modes of teaching, except for Mr. Westfall. Yet Westfall’s topic, theatre, required additional, and somewhat unusual, approaches. There was group work and peer evaluation which encouraged us to excel in our theatre studies. I believe that peer evaluation is an excellent way of motivating the students to do their best—none of the want to look “stupid” in front of their peers. I also agree with the lecture method to some extent; i.e. I usually lecture for about ten minutes before I have the students getting involved with group activities, discussion, or creative exercises.

4. Discuss your reactions to Boyer’s ideas on the connection between the scholar and the teacher.

Boyer’s position on this topic is astute and sagacious. I am reminded of one of the choices given to the newly-enlightened Buddha. An evil demon tempted the Buddha by giving him a chance to go directly to nibbana rather than having to reenter the world. The Buddha was tempted, but decided for the sake of humanity that he would teach his Middle Way to enlightenment. Now the Buddha did not have to make this choice, but out of pure caritas and altruism, he decided to teach. This story is inspirational in that the Buddha’s love for humanity was so strong that he was willing to give up paradise in order to pass along his knowledge to an ignorant humanity.

Thus must the scholar come out of his tower once he has found his answers and teach them to the rest of us. Perhaps it is his obligation as a human being to help strengthen the foundations and the seams of our human community by sharing his discoveries. After all, what good are intellectual nirvanas if they are not shared?

5. Discuss ways in which you plan to prepare your students to be evaluators.

I approach the subject using my discipline, i.e. the study of literature. Since literature represents a universal human condition, the students who learn to discern and discuss themes and meanings in literature will be well-trained to apply this to an evaluation of anything. In learning to judge the effectiveness of a work of art helps in the critical thinking process and allows the students to become better evaluators.

6. Boyer describes his “story” of how he became a TA. Describe your story.

Poor Dr. Sipiora. I badgered him daily about getting a TA position. Even though he assured me that my credentials were excellent and that I had a better-than-average chance of securing a position, I continued to inquire. As a result of either my qualifications or my endless harassment, I was awarded a taship.

7. Discuss Boyer’s recommendation that every Ph.D. program should have a seminar on teaching for candidates who plan to teach.

At first I believed this to be a waste of time. I had always viewed the College of Education with mild disdain; truly, every member of that school seemed to be underqualified to become a “real” scholar, so they opted for something easy like the teaching of elementary school. I had always been bothered by this though was unsure as to what to do about it. While (I believe) this problem still persists, at least steps are being taken to ensure that our future professoriate is being trained.

Evidenced by the above, I agree with Boyer’s proposal for the training of new tas. In fact the idea of not training strikes me as absurd.

8. Boyer believes that the “sacred act of teaching” should be one that focuses primarily on cooperative learning. Many scholars and teachers agree. What are you reactions to this?

The act of evaluation is an excellent way to learn. Boyer suggests peer, self, and student evaluation to better oneself as a teacher. This seems logical and has been implemented by me in my classes.