teaching and mentoring
As a university professor, I am employed both for my work as a researcher but also as a teacher/mentor. Thankfully for me, teaching is one of my great joys in life and I was honoured to receive the University of Washington's 2007 Distinguished Teaching Award. What I really enjoy are the "theatrics" and the "politics" of pedagogy; in other words, the live interaction and relationship with students as well as the potential to change the way we think about the world around us. To borrow the words of feminist scholar bell hooks, I like to think of my approach as a kind of "teaching to transgress".
bell hooks: When I enter a classroom at the beginning of the semester the weight is on me to establish that our purpose is to be, for however brief a time, a community of learners together. It positions me as a learner. But I am also not suggesting that I don't have more power. And I'm not trying to say we're all equal here. I'm trying to say that we are all equal here to the extent that we are equally committed to creating a learning environment.
Ron Scapp: That's right. That returns us to the issue of respect. Sure, it's bad faith to pretend that we're all the same because the teacher's the one who ultimately is going to grade. In traditional terms that is the source of power, and judging is something we all do as students and teachers. That's not really the source of power in the successful classroom. The power of the liberatory classroom is in fact the power of the learning process, the work we do to establish a community.*
Given this, I see it as my social and professional responsibility to help create opportunities for students to discover different ways of thinking and new ways of being critical. And being critical means more than simply identifying the pros and cons; it means searching for "hidden agendas", interrogating the taken-for-granted and doubting anyone who tells us something's good for us. So, my job as a teacher is not just to pump knowledge into students but to challenge them and to help them challenge others. Knowledge really is power, but it's pointless without action. One of the best things about this pedagogical approach is that I too am challenged and that I also get to grow from the process of building new learning communities with my students. Together, we are producers and creators of knowledge rather than simply passive recipients or objects of knowledge.
* Extract from a dialogue between professors bell hooks and Ron Scapp Source: hooks, b. In Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (1994, p.153).