I have to admit that I picked it up thinking it would make good fodder for this blog. I’ll say that at the onset. I thought maybe it would generate a blog post where I would deride the basic premises and assail the authors for their views of teaching and learning. But I was wrong.
I need to say that at the onset.
I came across the book almost by accident. I was at a used bookstore, looking through shelves of published works and hoping to find an inexpensive treasure or two that would make good holiday gifts. As I walked through the rows and rows of shelves, I stumbled into the “Education” section, and I decided to take a quick gander. Shelves of teaching and learning books greeted me. I imagined for a moment that each represented a snapshot of some educators’ undergraduate or graduate journey. And here the books had accumulated, the forgotten remnants of one’s learning process about learning.
As I glanced across the spines, I saw the title: The Elements of Teaching. I thought for a moment. “This should be entertaining. Who would dare reduce the act of teaching into “elements”??!!! And what could those elements even be?”
In that instant, I began writing a blog post in my head where I would critique the basic premise of the book. Elements of Teaching??!!
But that post will never be written, because this one took its place instead.
As I opened the cover to peruse the chapters, I encountered the titular “elements of teaching.” I honestly don’t know what I expected, but I’m sure it wasn’t this list.
Learning. Authority. Ethics. Order. Imagination. Compassion. Patience. Character. Pleasure.
Initially, I balked at a few of the “elements“ on the list (authority and order?). I couldn’t argue with compassion and patience, though. And I would never say that ethics and character weren’t critical to the work we do as teachers. After a few minutes of thought, I accepted that the list might be something important to consider and I decided to dig deeper in the book.
While the book offered no biographical information about the authors (James M. Banner, Jr. and Harold C. Cannon), it was clear that the writers were teachers who reflected deeply about the work we do. Beyond reflection, however, the authors captured the aspects of our work in such beautiful, eloquent, and poetic ways. For example, early in the Introduction, the authors discuss the art and science of teaching. They write:
“While pedagogical expertise and technical knowledge are essential to it ultimately teaching is a creative act; it makes something fresh from existing knowledge in spontaneous, improvised efforts of mind and spirit, disciplined by education and experience. Thus, unlike a technology, in which correct application produces predictable and uniform results, teaching yields infinite surprises – infinite delights – from one moment to the next. What method can supply to teaching we know or can learn; what art can furnish out of our own selves we must imagine – and then practice.” (Banner & Cannon, 1997, pg. 3)
After reading that paragraph, I decided the book needed to come home with me. And I decided that I’d be writing a different post this week.
The decision to purchase the book has proven to be a wise one. I’ve read several chapters so far and I anticipate I’ll be blogging more about the book over the next weeks. While it is a small book (142 pages), it is dense. At times, the writing is both challenging and beautiful. It is also complicated and deeply rewarding. In many ways, the book itself reflects that which it seeks to describe.