Thursday, December 06, 2012


This has always bothered me. Is a good teacher a kind of actor? Is a good class a kind of performance?

First of all, and I would suggest obviously, we ought to be concerned about teaching being about the ego of the teacher. Our egos are involved. Our egos probably shouldn't be what most concerns us.

On the other hand, "the teacher" is certainly a role one plays, and a projection of the ego of the person playing that role. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, necessarily.

I think I want to ask whether "good teaching" requires this egoism/egotism.

The very best classes I've taught have not been theatrical, for the most part. They involved stunts, skits, and schtick, but in each session that performative aspect broke down almost immediately. (You'd have to be rather postmodern to think that personality and identity are performance all the way down.) The implications of this are kinda astounding: a class session could mean real, open exposure of ourselves to one another, and the boundaries and preconceived ethical limitations of this experience would be set aside. Let me emphasize this is rare, rarified, even magical.

The next best classes I've taught have been theatrical, maybe even thoroughly so. That's interesting to me.

Both the non-theatrical and theatrical great classes are as exhausting as they are exhilarating. I guess, or hope, that the non-theatrical are more genuinely life-changing, for all participants.

Some of the worst class sessions I've had were those I over-prepared for, but 1/4 preparation strikes me as absurdly hyperbolic. I've prepared to teach tomorrow's Bioethics class for around 20 years, in a way. (Thus do I write and bring copious notes to every class meeting and practically never look at them.)

It's a fundamental paradox of teaching: I and my students must both be prepared to be surprised.

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