Teaching as Dialogue: A Teacher’s Study (1993)
In this age of information, the technologies of teaching have become varied and exotic. There is a sense of urgency to teach tomorrow’s generation fully and efficiently. Within this context the perceived task has been to focus on the nature of learning: how to facilitate and mediate information transfer from sources to learners.
In this present age there is also a sense of the vastness of knowledge and curriculum. No one person can grasp all there is to know; all there is that is known. What information should be learned; what should be given less attention; where does such oughtness reside? What gives meaning to information beyond the technologies themselves becomes a question which has urgency in this moment of global shrinking and some crises in meaning itself.
Teaching as Dialogue enters this realm of the meaning and context of knowledge. It claims that teaching is among the sacred arts. Teachers, like doctors and preachers, can touch in spirit the persons who come to them conceptually and actually – today and toward the students’ futures.
Via the persona and presence of the Teacher, dialogue is the major vehicle for the transmission of culture. The ideas and history which have brought us to this time need critical analysis as we enter an uncertain future. Teachers can be anchors in changing times!
The conceptual distinction between teacher and Teacher is the subject of the Introduction. The teacher is someone (anyone?) who finds oneself in a classroom teaching. The Teacher is the person who becomes Teacher to one’s students: entering their spirits in some depth; asking in return their willingness to change and grow in the direction of the Teacher’s judgment of their possibilities. Teaching is a sacred activity in which the Teacher is granted the right and obligation to change their students’ inner being.
Chapter I of Teaching as Dialogue is an apologetic. Why Teachers?— it asks. It responds to this question by exploring the nature of teaching and of the Teacher. Teaching is in the present yet toward and for the future. Teaching is in the classroom yet is (also) about experience in the world. Teaching is politics and seeks thoughtful Teachers who can approach both their subjects and students with a love and hope which inspires the students to become… more. How can Teachers’ knowledge and thinking be translated to a next generation and provide paths toward critical thinking and meaning in a future which is not yet? How can a Teacher inspire a future without attempting to predetermine or proscribe it: teaching, not prophecy.
Chapter II: What, then, these Teachers? How can Teachers be real to themselves in each present moment, yet represent an unchanging concept to their students? How do Teachers manage themselves, wielding the power of their position and podium to enable the students’ futures? How can Teachers sustain themselves, neither pandering to the neophytes who have not (yet) developed intellectual taste , nor turning inward and protecting their own thinking and love for subject matter from those who would seek techniques over knowing and thinking? How can any Teacher become – and remain – the kind of Teacher with whom they would have loved to study? The Delphic Oracle… she… inspires us to the responsibility for all of knowing, particularly of oneself.
The third Chapter explores the nature of conceptual teaching. How can Teachers teach their subjects while studying their students? What does the study of students consist in: faces, logics, energies, change. How to handle the politics of the classroom to actually deal with Freire’s problem? How can Teachers extend ideas, plan courses; what is a lesson, a teaching point; how to go from concepts to articulations, to extend and bridge one idea to another? Teaching as Dialogue suggests that students respond primarily to style. How to weave substantive knowledge within the students’ primary study — which is their Teacher?
As teaching is dynamic and a doing, Chapter IV considers the teaching dialogue more directly. Within Socratic traditions, how does one teach? Strategies, tactics, the place and use of silence add tension and memorability to the teaching interaction. The subject of teaching students is the nature of being human. Some sample dialogues explore the Teacher’s study: the nature of faces, why we look like we do, who we are-not? Some responses to students’ queries —and thinking about those responses— fill out the nature of teaching: interview as dialogue. How can we Teachers enter into a mutuality of understanding yet progress conceptually?
Chapter V is a brief discussion about the nature of judgment: of the self-as-Teacher and of students. What are grades: what are they for; how do Teachers judge others and themselves; what are judgments for and about?
Chapter VI is also brief: concerning the nature of being and becoming an auto-didact— a self-teacher. It concludes with a meditation on becoming the Teacher whom I would become… an ongoingness.
How and what to read in the course of becoming and sustaining being-a-Teacher concludes Teaching as Dialogue. In this context, reading is less for knowing, more seeking to be with the others in the world who are also Teachers; to link hands and minds enriching each of our classrooms with others similarly engaged. How do we walk in the world with Socrates? These Teacher-writers exist in our own traditions as well as in other parts of the world which truly possess (strong) Teacher traditions.
This book is directed toward dialogue with other Teachers. I attempt to address the reader, placing her or him in the classroom both as student and the would-be Teacher. As teacher-students our minds are engaged in the situation, on the subject matter, in the now and then and what will be. The situation is embodied, empeopled; talk and concept; toward some community of scholar-Teachers.
Equally, the mode of presentation—this writing—tries to mimic the event. It is, variously, narrative, reflection, and meditation. As the mode of writing may supersede the narrative, the actualities of teaching actual students often intersects the narrative of telling about any subject. As in any teaching, Teaching as Dialogue is a course of study, having duration, wanting some repetition, rephrasing, and reinterpretation. Any clarity which it claims must be achieved in the spirit of exploration and wonderment… a doing.
Teaching as Dialogue – no simple, straightforward story. As an exploration of the self-as-Teacher, this remains interesting and puzzling. As an activity, a doing, it often seems to stand outside itself. Can one come to terms with these disparate aspects of oneself and remain true to one’s subject and honest to oneself?
(From the preface to Teaching as Dialogue: A Teacher’s Study)