A few words on teaching discussions

Now that the school year is starting, a lot of us are thinking a lot about teaching. Savage Minds pointed me to this essay by James Renfield, titled "On the Discussion Class."

It's really worthwhile, and the ending paragraph is maybe the best:

Finally, the first thing I learned as a teacher was that nobody is a good teacher for everybody, which I found a very bitter lesson. Slightly later in life I learned the corollary, which I found even worse in a way -- that just about everybody is a good teacher for somebody. You meet these incredible klutzes, and it turns out there is some-body out there for whom they have made all of the difference. This observation led me to conclude that teaching is not a method, it's a name for a whole group of social situations in which all kinds of things happen and about which it is not possible to say anything really very useful on a technical level.

Despite the final sentence, there are a lot of useful technical ideas -- including the ways that "discussions" are often more authoritarian than lectures. It may be sad to recognize yourself among the types of discussions he describes, but at least everyone else is in the same boat!