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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

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Robert Leamnson on Teaching and Learning

— Robert Leamnson’s Thinking About Teaching and Learning (Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing, 2001) is full of good practical advice for working with students both in and out of the classroom. Although it is a general work on college teaching, it does spend quite a bit of time discussing the importance of informal contact among students and faculty, contact of the kind that can happen readily in residential colleges. Leamnson writes:

New students’ real introduction to the academic rules and rigors of college life comes in the courses they take. Ideally, every faculty member who teaches first-year students would be an orientation leader. As Joseph Lowman (1995) said, “Students need affection from college teachers, not as parents or lovers, but as adults who approve of them as learners and persons.” First-year students may be walking around with a need they can’t quite put into words—the need for a grownup friend. Young people might not, however, seek or expect approval and friendship from a stranger or a functionary. They might find the just-right person in student services, or through formal advising or counseling. But their teachers are the adults they encounter regularly and frequently. They have ample time to watch what we do, what we say, and how we react. They do, at some level, get to know us. It should not be surprising if some of them pick a teacher to be their adult friend.…

All out-of-class interactions with students, face-to-face or electronic, should be personal and friendly. As Page Smith (1990) said, “Teachers who love their students are of course by that very fact teaching their students the nature of love, although the course may in fact be chemistry or computer science.” He thoroughly endorses out-of-class contacts between students and faculty, “because they reveal something to the student about reality that can, I suspect, be learned no other way. Such contacts demonstrate that ideas are ‘embodied’. They do not exist apart from a person, remote or near at hand, who enunciates, who takes responsibility for them by declaring them, by speaking about them.” Or in the words of Woodrow Wilson, “We shall never succeed in creating this organic passion, this great use of the mind until [we] have utterly destroyed the practice of merely formal contacts between teacher and pupil.”

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