By Rob Cosgrove, English/Writing Department
I’m ambivalent about a lot of things as teacher. For one, there’s the work of supporting and representing a turbulent matrix of constituencies: the institution, the discipline, and student learning. There’s also the uncertainty about “what works” for a teacher in facilitating learning, as the performance of individual students depends on so many contingencies. For example: should we promote “self esteem” when we learn (from recent studies) that self esteem is not a precondition for optimal performance? How do we express empathy for struggling students when we believe they are making poor choices and we’re not exactly feeling it?
There’s no way to eliminate all of these ambivalences, but a talk by Alex Shevrin offers teachers like me a useful starting point: we simply support the student as a whole person, regardless of where they are in the learning process. Shevrin observes that it begins simply with a conscious choice and a set of clear intentions. It’s not about being perfect: it’s about being aware that we have the choice to recognize (and be present with) four fundamental assumptions in taking a stance in relation to our students:
- I care about you
- You have value
- You don’t have to do anything to prove it to me
- Nothing’s going to change my mind.
I believe that this stance can be taken not only individually, but also as an institutional and disciplinary mission. I hope you find Alex’s Shevrin’s talk as incisive and as invigorating as I did.