After I had been teaching college English classes for a few years, I enrolled at Portland State University in an Master’s of Art in English degree. I thought it would be helpful to have a stronger credential and not always rely on someone recognizing the strength of my undergraduate degree. A drill sergeant named Marge supervised the program, and as part of my coursework, she observed a section of English Composition I had been assigned as a graduate assistant.
Marge and I could not have been further apart in our view of the role of the professor in the classroom. She was a retired army veteran and favored an authoritarian approach to teaching. I was a true child of the 60’s and valued collaboration, though I acknowledged my particular role as discussion leader. I also had a much deeper background than my students and I held the authority of experience in the field that they were yet to gain.
After Marge had sat in on one of my classes, she called me in for a review. Her first sentence was “Do you always teach your students in a circle?” I replied that I did. She then asked, “Why do you do that?” I told her I appreciated conveying that we all had something to contribute. ” She sat silent for a while, as I waited for further grilling. But instead she said,”Well, I don’t know why, but it’s working. Your students are unusually engaged with the material.”
Marge and I reached an uneasy truce.
And I continued to sit in a circle with my students for the rest of my teaching career.