Teacher Taxonomy

I have been following a series of blots by Chad Orzel, “Uncertain Principles” this week. The starting point is here, [Link] where he takes exception to a tweet by Neil DeGrasse Tyson,

Students who earn straight “A”s in school do so not because of good Teachers but in spite of bad Teachers.

— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) January 10, 2015

which is the basis of his (Chad’s) discourse.

I want to commence here by noting that Tyson admits to a taxonomy of good and bad teachers. I also have to admit that I am more in agreement with Tyson’s (terse) argument than Chad’s voluminous one. Not that it’s wrong but that it’s missing some things.

Needless to say this is something that a lot of folks have weighed in on and Chad has striven mightily to maintain his position, which I will only criticize as being a bit too much EXTRO and Academic. I’m not going to reproduce Chad’s argument because I can’t do it justice and you can read it on his blog.

But I will offer my (a different) slant based on my experience. As I was listening to an episode of “Linux Luddites” [Link] this morning on stationary bicycle (Greater Metropolitan Arab air temperature 27 degF so no constitutional in the park,) they got into one of their love-hate discourses on Unity. And this gave me the insight into the nature of the teacher taxonomy, at least for me.

I should comment that Unity, the standard Ubuntu (Tile) desktop/GUI is very polarizing. Those who have been exposed to it either love or hate it. No like/dislike here. No ambiguity except among the ignorant. IMHO the evaluation is almost purely functional (with a bit of eyecandy bias?) on whether the individual finds Unity a comfortable way to use the OS. I find it resistive and impedimential and use KDE. It’s not unique. My way of using OS doesn’t fit with a Tile GUI. But the experience does give me insights into the “Death to Infidels” mentality.

In my usage, the teacher taxonomy is functional, along the lines that a “good” teacher assists me in learning and a “bad” teacher impedes or denies me learning. And yes, I was pretty close to a ‘straight-A’ student. Not all the time. Bad grades marked when both teacher and I failed. And no, that assessment isn’t just sour grapes.

Most of the bad teachers I experienced were in primary and secondary schule. Their mode was pedantic and rationing. Only learning on schedule was permitted. And things had to proceed at the boundary of the bottom 0.1. Most of the good teachers I experienced were in college. I take well to lectures and have no difficulty being challenged as long as the information is interesting. That excludes Literature and some other subjects. I find things that can’t be tested – in the TEM sense – to be undesirable and off-putting. 

As previously stated I am pretty well self-learning. That’s why I do well in a STEM environment. Lectures are like sparking plugs in a petrol motor. But self-learnrs are difficult for any teacher and impossible for overly structured ones. Simply put, self-learners in college never go to lecture (except STEM courses) but always go to office hours. Even after they complete the course. That’s because they trust the professor and the teacher help they need is with the nuggets of information they are having trouble with. They don’t need the teacher for the easy bits and that is what alienates the structured teacher. 

I have a conjecture that teachers tend to prefer non-learners over self-learners. That’s because teaching those who can’t learn on their own is a big boost to the ego and if you are insecure – and who isn’t? except the deniers? – you need some reinforcement of value. But a student who only comes around to cherry pick hard stuff is a real challenge that only another self-learner can appreciate.

That doesn’t keep those bogs who think a bad teacher (in my estimation) to be good from being right. Of that teacher helps them learn then they are right. But so am I. That’s the nature of this beast. What is good and bad depends on the individual and that is not something organization can handle with any grace at all.