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My favorite teacher movie is The Emperor’s Club. Kevin Kline plays Mr. Hundert, who inspires his students to learn the great principles of history. Mr. Hundert makes no apology for the hard work it will take to master the subject. And the teacher has high expectations for his students as well as himself. But I think the down-deep reason I resonate with The Emperor’s Club is that education is meant to be rigorous.
Perhaps Mr. Hundert’s ideal is behind the two questions, I ask my students to ask themselves. In each of my college syllabi, the questions are posed: (1) What do I want out of this course? And (2) What am I willing to do, to get what I want out of this course? If students decide to go to college because they want a degree, then the result of their work is theirs alone. Students decide how important the class is. Students are responsible for the work they do. Students account for what they produce in a class. Students earn the grades they receive. Students oversee their own learning.
And here is a story you won’t soon forget. I used to hate my students. I know. That sounds very harsh. But hear me out. I never had an education course before I started teaching and had no idea what to expect. I thought students would hang on my every word. Ha! Nothing could be or is further from the truth. But here is the thing. I discovered that my responsibility was to do the best teaching I could do. I surely failed many times. But the next lesson was a life-changer in my second year of teaching. It dawned on me that once the teaching was given, the student was responsible for the learning.