We learned. We did learn, in a spirit of vengefulness: we would give Mr. Erskine no excuses. There was nothing he wanted more than to get a foot on each of our necks–well, he would be denied the pleasure, if possible. What we really learned from him was how to cheat. It was difficult to fake the mathematics, but we spent many hours in the late afternoons cribbing up out translations of Ovid from a couple of books in Grandfather’s library–old translation by eminent Victorians, with small print and complicated vocabularies. We would get the sense of the passage from these books, then substitute other, simpler words, and add a few mistakes, to make it look as if we’d done it ourselves. Whatever we did, though, Mr. Erskine would slash up our translations with his red pencil and write savage comments in the margins. We didn’t learn much Latin, but we learned a great deal about forgery.“1
Like the female protagonist reflecting on her prepubescent experience with her and her sister’s live-in tutor in @MargaretAtwood‘s The Blind Assassin, I wonder how much our students learn from our classes is unintentional (and sometimes undesired) knowledge or skill. Are we cognisant of what our actions, off-the-cuff remarks and non-verbal communication models to our students? It’s easy to overlook the impact of these important forms of communication. We are models, not all of the fashionable kind.
If we hope our students accept, reflect on and build from our feedback, should we not seek and welcome feedback given to us? I think so.
If we want our students to be autonomous, collaborative and active learners, should we not demonstrate that by our own example? I think so.
1Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 164.