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The Art of Teaching$
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Jay Parini

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195169690

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195169690.001.0001

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(p.105) Nitty-Gritty
The Art of Teaching

Jay Parini

Oxford University Press

Okay, you’ve got your first job. I was there, 30 years ago, but— unfortunately—there was nobody around to write me the sort of letter I’m writing to you. I don’t even know you, but I feel a certain responsibility, mostly because I want to spare you some of the mistakes I made, to make your life in the classroom, in the academic village, a little easier. Like all advice, you can take it or leave it. One of the main things I can say to you is that every teacher, like every person, is different. You have to teach out of who you are. That is the only way you will succeed, as a professional, as a teacher and scholar, as a member of the community of scholars. You will have to adapt anything I say here to your own private vision, to some version of yourself. The essential journey in this profession is toward self-knowledge; this will involve getting lost in order to get found, losing your thread, having to revise your sense of reality over and over, frequently adjusting to new information, new contexts. In modeling this revisionary path, you will help your students to learn how to forge their own paths. I will assume that you went into the teaching profession because you thought you had a gift for teaching or scholarship—or both. You liked a few teachers along the way and you thought you could emulate their success. Perhaps you were just fascinated by the field: literature, physics, whatever. You wanted to spend your life around people fascinated by this field, who take their work in a given subject seriously. You liked, perhaps, the smell of the lab or library, the feel of scholarly journals in your hands. You enjoyed hearing intelligent people argue. That is probably as good a place to begin as anywhere, but you nevertheless have to make your way in the profession: among students and among your colleagues, some of whom will vote on your tenure. Again I will return to the basic advice: be yourself, but build on that notion, adding to yourself, amplifying yourself.

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