Back on the Saddle, Pedagogy, 09/05/2017

Or am I in the saddle? Is that how this metaphor works? I don’t really know because I don’t ride horses. I was on a horse once when I visited a farm near where my uncles live. I was maybe eight years old and it kind of frightened me.

I’m actually writing this while delivering a presentation introducing the basics of English grammar. Or at least that’s how I started writing this. I wrote last week about how much I looked forward to returning to teaching. It’s been fun, and a very different experience from where I worked before.

One interesting thing about my job at Cestar is how much of its student body comes from Asia – literally everyone in my first class yesterday was of Indian descent, Punjabi for the most part. I’ve never had people react to me with such deference before.

I mean, I quickly took care of that. I don’t do authoritarian teaching styles. And since the subject matter of the business communication class is pretty dry moment to moment, I couldn’t just haughtily intone the content.

A pretty good depiction of how I roll in a classroom.
I don’t do haughty anyway. I had what I think is a solid technique for defusing the hierarchical tendency, though. I was actually a little shocked when I came into the classroom for the first time, a few minutes before start time – because all the students who had already shown up stood up as a salute to me. There was only one possible response.

“Shit, guys, sit the fuck back down. I’m just dropping off my stuff before going to the bathroom. Then I’m coming back.”

I don’t do authority. I mean, I am an authority – in the sense of expertise, skill at teaching, knowledge of English grammar, knowledge of philosophy, pedagogy, how to communicate complex and dry ideas. But I’m no authority in the hierarchical sense.

My training at Cestar discussed how, along many vectors, I’d be introducing a lot of my students to the subtleties of Canadian culture as well as the course content itself. An important part of that is the democratic principle – authority is earned, deserved through hard work and achievement. And deference is not the same as supplication.

The first class is always about introducing my teaching style, and my style is an approach that often overcomes the usual dynamic that can bring a teacher’s student evaluations down. I don’t lay down the law. I mock academic dishonesty itself.

My key points. This is not a difficult course,* it's actually more effort to cheat or plagiarize. So why would you waste your time and money on faking your way through the course when you’ll do just as well, if not better, by just showing up and paying a small amount of attention?

* I’m not lying. Yesterday (and every day for the next three weeks) was a business communications course, which focusses mostly on English grammar, editing, and short form composition skills. Emails, memos, letters, article-length writing.

It’s a rhetorical question, of course. Academic dishonesty is a terrible crime in a teaching institution, and comes with severe punishments. You get a zero on the assignment where you cheated. Caught a second time and you fail the whole course. Caught a third time and we kick you out for three years.

I’m not kidding.

But cheating is, more importantly, ridiculous. A disservice to yourself. A person is better than that. Especially at the prices we charge for tuition these days.

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