I vividly remember walking into my first college classroom almost 30 years ago. I was nervous and excited at the same time. Was I the professor or an impostor? What would I say for 50 minutes, 3 times a week, for 16 weeks? Well, I found out I could easily talk that long. It enjoyed having a captive audience forced to as least pretend to listen to me.
For thirty years I tried to combine enthusiasm with command of my subject. I did some lecturing, as it is hard to generate discussion without there being something in a student’s mind, but I didn’t see my students as empty receptacles. Instead I tried to pull from what was already inside them, employing a Socratic method. I didn’t learn from all of my nearly 10,000 students, but I did learn from many of them and that fills me with gratitude.
The most influential advice that informed my teaching came from the Martin Heidegger.
Teaching is even more difficult than learning. We know that; but we rarely think about it. And why is teaching more difficult than learning? Not because the teacher must have a larger store of information, and have it always ready. Teaching is more difficult than learning because what teaching calls for is this: to let learn. The real teacher, in fact, lets nothing else be learned than—learning … The teacher is far ahead of his apprentices in this alone, that he has still far more to learn than they—he has to learn to let them learn. The teacher must be capable of being more teachable than the apprentices. His conduct, therefore, often produces the impression that we properly learn nothing from him, if by “learning” we now suddenly understand merely the procurement of useful information. The teacher is ahead of his apprentices in this alone, that he has still far more to learn that they—he has to learn to let them learn. The teacher must be capable of being more teachable than the apprentices. The teacher is far less assured of his ground that those who learn are of theirs. If the relation between the teacher and the taught is genuine, therefore, there is never a place in it for the authority of the know-it-all or the authoritative sway of the official. It is still an exalted matter, then, to become a teacher—which is something else entirely than becoming a famous professor.
Still your students forget you, as one of my first mentors told me long ago. Thus you should focus on your own work; work that expresses or elaborates your being, work that is not alienated labor. So with many thanks to those thousands of students, now is the time to do less teaching and more learning. I so need and want to learn more.