Teaching by Accident

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Gina Barreca writes about "learn[ing] a great deal from those who don't have your best interests at heart". In her case, she remembers two awful teachers from her youth, one of whom directly insulted her:

[S]omething changed. I knew for certain that I could do nothing to make the teacher like me and I stopped trying to get her affection. But I didn't stop trying to get her attention.

I didn't stop raising my hand when I knew the answer and I worked hard to make sure I knew a lot of them. I became effective and defiant without being impolite.

That's served me well.
At first, this article almost managed to make me wish I'd had a couple of rotten teachers like this and the lessons that came with them. But further reflection caused me to realize that, in fact, I'd had at least one terrible teacher. I didn't immediately make the connection because that situation was a little closer to that of Barreca's second teacher. But the realization has helped me realize that I'm learning the same kind of lesson now, long after I could have started profiting from it.

We all have terrible teachers at some point, and many of us will learn from such experiences. Barreca's pain shows us the value of understanding where our emotions come from, but pain isn't the only one. In my case, I could have paid more attention to (among other things) why it seemed odd that this teacher scoffed at my initial motivation level. I ended up learning much less than I should have both about the subject matter and about the amount of work genuine expertise requires. If there is anything one should be jealous of regarding Barreca's experiences, it is her attentiveness to what she felt and why.

-- CAV

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