There was a strange irony to this. I firmly believed that most teaching was useless. A well-known university had published a collection of essays in which mine started with the rebellious declaration, “There is no such thing as teaching.” In fact, I was convinced that a large part of teaching was quite harmful. Most of my friends who had been exposed to Shakespeare in college as a text, never read him later and hated him. I paid no attention to my professors of literature and took my lessons only from Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud, loved Shakespeare and read him for fun.
The Dean was fortunately a flexible person ready to go along with my innovations if she felt it would attract and motivate students. I let go of the classic lecture style and would begin a topic by inviting thoughts and questions from students. This in turn prompted students to study the theme in advance and prepare their mind. It also made the process highly participative.
The management institute was a different proposition. It followed, religiously, the case method of teaching and believed that that alone made the teaching process responsive to students. In reality, the culture of the institute was highly paternalistic and in class after class of other professors that I attended I found the process centered on the professor as the hero and savant. The students got the message and often focused on cultivating the professor and gaining an advantage. My inclination was to deemphasize the professor’s central role and place the ball back firmly among the students. I believed my role, both in the class and outside, was only to help the student’s own effort to learn.
In both the institutions I tried to do two very simple things.
I took the course outline, largely modified and updated it, then wrote out a detailed framework, saying what really has to be learned and what the student can do to stay ahead of the curve. I suggested alternative texts, but left it to the students to decide what they found relevant and helpful. I have never quite understood why educational institutions, who talk incessantly of student responsibility, seldom give them useful clues as to how they can prepare for a course, cope best with the oncoming stream of new knowledge and offer guidelines that can keep the learner from feeling overwhelmed. Pressure and tension seem to be watchwords of current practice. My aim was to make the student at home and find the peace and fun that true learning should entail.
I am sure I failed in many ways and I should have done better for my pupils. They were gracious and indulgent and showered me with affection I cannot ever forget.