Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Asking Questions

It comes up (usually because I bring it up) at every new Montclair class, the question of questions, namely: why don't my students ask more questions?

Today, though, I was grateful to get some honest answers. We don't want to be wrong. We don't want people to think we're stupid. We don't want to stick our necks out.

Fair enough. I thought those might be the answers. My question to myself: how do I create an atmosphere in the classroom where it's safe to ask as many questions as often as you like? How do I convince you, dear students, that the only foolish question is the one you don't ask? How do I assure you that in asking question you won't be seen as dumb; on the contrary, others will be grateful. In fact one person in that classroom, I guarantee you, who'll be most the grateful of all. Me.

Why? Because teaching a class where no one ever asks questions is about as much fun and as easy as having to eat a box of light bulbs (without salt). Because teaching to a room full of Easter Island Statues makes me want to run screaming out of the classroom. And after a few weeks of doing it I'll be ready to go home and mix myself a nice, tall drink of arsenic, with a cyanide chaser.

Because when no one asks questions, I can't tell if anything I'm saying makes any sense at all. I can't even tell if my students are listening, or if they're awake, or if they have heartbeats and pulses. For all I know, they are text messaging love letters under their notebooks (well, at least they're writing).

The thing is, I don't really want to teach a whole class every day. Ideally, I'd like to teach about 1/4 or maybe 1/3 of a class--and let you (my students) teach the rest—by asking questions, by talking, by sharing ideas and experiences.

Otherwise, guess what?

You're stuck with me and my ideas.

And so am I.

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