After a sabbatical semester, I am back in the classroom. It is interesting to be away for 8 months and then walk in to face young faces again. In the first week, I try to do as I always do: Set the tone that I want for the entire semester. I see no reason to wait to say “this is how I want the semester to go.”
During the first class, in different words on several different occasions, I explained exactly how I wanted the class to operate. I always believe that it goes better if you are very open with the students and clear on your goals and expectations. I think, for the most part, students rise to a challenge if they are convinced that the benefit is real.
“During this semester, I will devise weird situations each day and then I will guide you as you figure out proper responses. We’ll make lots of mistakes along the way but if we work hard we’ll eventually get to good, firm, logical conclusions. I am never going to ask you to memorize anything. If I do, someone should raise a hand and demand a refund. In the real world, after you graduate, no one is ever going to ask you to memorize something and then give you a test on it. That’s never going to happen. I am not sure what a school is preparing you for when it asks you to do that. But, if you are going to be successful, people will start showing you weird situations that they cannot solve and get your help in arriving at a reasonable resolution. That is a skill worth having. That is a skill you can develop. My role here is not to teach you anything. My role is to help guide you to figure this stuff out. My three favorite words are: ‘figure it out.’ There is logic to this subject. It is not random. Nothing is accidental. But you have to learn how to see that logic. Once you see and understand that logic, you can start making use of it. Often, it is like an elephant hidden in a picture, you won’t see it until it is pointed out. After that, you will never understand how you ever missed it. By the end of the semester, I want you to see every hidden elephant without any prompting. The process takes some patience. That process requires you to look beyond the superficial. But everything worth having requires patience. More importantly, it takes time and effort. If you put in the time and effort, what you get from this class will be well worth having. I guarantee that. You have to walk in to class each day prepared. No one wins a football game without preparation. No one wins an election without preparation. No one learns anything serious in class without preparation. In my classes, I like to ask questions. I think that is the essence of developing critical thinking skills. Every question is slightly different. Every question pokes at a different part of your thinking. Every question asks ‘how is this different than that?’ Your preparation is to think through those questions. Your preparation is to look for logical conclusions. Not in some superficial way just so I will not fuss at you. No, you have to think through the questions like you are tearing them apart so that you can put them back together with the answer sticking out. At the end of the semester, I have one goal. I want you to walk out of this room on the final day and say ‘I never thought I could work so hard; I never thought I could learn so much; I never thought I could think so deeply; and it was fun.’ When I hear that, I’ll know we’ve accomplished something worthwhile.”
Okay, I don’t know if we will accomplish all of that this semester but I am 100 percent sure that we would never accomplish much of it if the proper tone did not get set on the very first day.