Teaching, Without Speaking

A long time ago, I wrote a piece in which I listed some teaching suggestions from Neil Postman’s book, “Teaching as a Subversive Activity.” (http://billgx.edublogs.org/2010/11/24/you-can-lead-a-horse-to-water/)

Some of those suggestions included things like asking more questions than making statements. Or taking every 4th year off to do something other than teaching. Or teaching a subject outside of your specialty. It was a really good list of ideas. I invite you to have a look at it.

Monday, I had a strange experience that happened, and it reminded me of these old suggestions of Postman. My cohort of first year/freshmen students enjoy pranking me from time to time. One time, they piled up all of the chairs in the room against the door, blocking me out. Monday, when I came to class, they all just sat there and smiled. They wouldn’t say a word. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get them to speak. I caught on what was happening, so I decided to teach without speaking either. As it turned out, I had a sore throat and was losing my voice anyway.

I had prepared several worksheets I had planned on working on together as a class, with explanations and examples on the board. Intended as a discussion tool, originally, I had only one handout, but since I feared I wouldn’t be able to speak at length, before class I created a second example, along with a reflective analysis page to get them to think about the implications of the examples we would do together in class.

Instead, I played along with the game. I just handed the worksheets out and made grunts and gestures that I wanted them to work on them. I worked on one myself, and passed the completed one around so they could see how I would solve the problem presented. With the final page, I reflected on the previous ones, to demonstrate what I hoped they would notice from the other two pages. I worked that as well, then passed it around.

Then I collected all of their papers, went to the door, waved goodbye and walked out. This was about 20 minutes before our 75 minute class period was over. I just walked out and never came back. I heard them laughing as I disappeared out of sight.

I love this group of students. They keep me on my toes. I hope I surprised them with my response to their gag. I’m not sure what they were expecting.