Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

A Course, a Course, My Kingdom for a Course: Reflections of an Unrepentant Teacher

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

A Course, a Course, My Kingdom for a Course: Reflections of an Unrepentant Teacher

Article excerpt

CPA Award for Distinguished Contribution to Psychology in Education and Training (2000) -- Prix de la scP pour contribution remarquable a l'education et la formation en psychologie (2000)


I disagree emphatically with George Bernard Shaw's polemic, "he who can does. He who cannot, teaches." Indeed, I embrace the opposite view, articulated by Benjamin (1998): "he who can, teaches." However, I am also persuaded by the awkward (for teachers) wisdom of B.F. Skinner (1964) that "education is what survives when what has been learnt has been forgotten." Thus, our challenge as teachers is clear - at a minimum we must guarantee that the fundamentals of psychology survive in our students' memories long after the curricular specifics have faded. We accomplish this end, I believe, through a passion for (rather than mere knowledge of) our discipline, and a respect and fondness for our students. In this paper I will consider a number of questions to show how these attributes might be nurtured: what does and does not work in the classroom, is less (content) more, how best to evaluate students, what is the role of humour in teaching, should we trust professorial folk wisdom, and how much should research inform our teaching?


It is stunningly gratifying to be the recipient of the Education and Training Award 2000, but the entire experience has a strange, other-world-ly feel to it. I think much of this strangeness is explained by the range of emotions this honour has engendered. My immediate reaction was one of unalloyed pleasure, unfettered delight, an endorphin-producing burst of exhilaration. That short-lived euphoria was very quickly replaced by three other feelings, which have remained with me. First, complete surprise - I am not given to talking to myself aloud (there are too many psychologists about who might misinterpret such behaviour), but I remember uttering an entirely spontaneous and rather loud "WHAT??" as I read the award letter. As some of my students might say, "I was, like shocked, like totally" - for two reasons. One, for the past 28 years I have been quietly teaching at a small, entirely undergraduate college. Two, in terms of involvement in CPA, though it is true that for the past dozen years I have chaired the Section on the Teaching of Psychology, that is only because virtually no one else has ever attended subsequent Section business meetings! So all in all, I really did not think anyone was paying much attention to what I have been doing, hence the unexpectedness of the award.

Second, surprise was followed rapidly by humility at finding myself in the rarified company of such formidable past recipients as Kurt Danziger, Barbara Byrne, Ken Craig, Donald Taylor, Margaret Kiely, and Bob Gardner. This reaction should not be interpreted as false modesty, however. Though I was completely surprised and humbled by this award, most of all, I am thoroughly delighted to be recognized by my peers in this fashion. As I often say to my students, perhaps the greatest frustration in teaching is that one spends dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of hours with students over the course of their university careers, and only rarely is there any feedback as to whether all that time together mattered. I would like to think that this honour is air indication that I have made a difference in my students' lives, which in the final analysis is all any teacher can want.

Surprise and humility were speedily joined by yet a third sentiment, which is also still with me, and it has been by far the most powerful. For a long time I was not sure what to call it, but recently I was speaking about this dilemma to Auburn's Bill Buskist (this year's recipient of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology Robert S. Daniels Award for Teaching Excellence), who said, "I know exactly what you mean, Nick. I call it `fraud"'". What Bill meant is that he and I (and, I imagine, all who receive decent teaching evaluations) now walk around in constant fear of being found out - that we are not the teachers other people say we are! …

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