It’s official: I’m sick of pedagogy.

Or, to be more precise, I’m sick of pedagogical articles implying that the sentiment “teachers need to be flexible and reflective” remains a meaningful contribution to theoretical dialogue in the field. Ho hum, teachers are not always right. Ho hum, teaching must be adapted to the audience and context. Ho hum.

The problem with this argument (and the endless number of articles promoting it) is that, when carried to a logical conclusion, it negates the value of pedagogical instruction. If every interaction with a student or group of students is unique, if even the instructor herself endeavors never to be the same river twice, what is the purpose of trading tales of classroom success? Aren’t these tales little more than the self-congratulatory palaver of veterans? (I’m looking at you, Wilner.)

With my apologies to Sylvia Plath, I would suggest that teaching is an art, like everything else, and if you do it exceptionally well, it feels like hell.

Successful teaching is that which balances the observation of students’ backgrounds, competencies, and needs with the assumptions and demands of the cultural moment. It asks teachers to plan carefully, prepare diligently, and cheerfully scrap it all and begin again when any one of the multitudes of classroom variables invalidates all of the work done in advance. Successful teaching requires knowledge of both the content area and the pedagogical strategies that will encourage learner autonomy.

In comparing the week’s readings, I am struck by how much more realistic, practical, and useful – in short, how much more valuable – I found the chapters by Blau. Like Wilner, Blau acknowledges the necessity of recognizing the various viewpoints and personalities that come together in the classroom. Rather than allowing these divergent points of entry to tempt him into a solipsistic exploration of the role of the teacher, however, he attempts to propose thoughtful ideas (I hesitate to use the word “solutions”) that allow students to engage with a text or an activity at a level appropriate for them as individuals.

Blau and Wilner both seem to imply that every class meeting, every assignment, indeed, every interaction in some way represents a kind of battle. Wilner’s hyper reflective approach seems to make an enemy of the self, refusing both pat assumptions and the confidence that might otherwise accompany a long and successful career. She seems to delight in making teaching, already a difficult task, impossible. Blau, on the other hand, implies that the instructor has an opportunity to join students in the struggle, completely re-conceptualizing both the union between these groups and their goal.

Viewed this way, the value of exchanging experiences becomes obvious: while no two lessons will ever be the same, the benefit of having other teachers’ ideas and approaches to draw on helps prevent instructors from having to continually re-invent the wheel. In doing so, teachers are free to focus on observing and empowering their students, confident that they will be able to respond to whatever each class session may bring.

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