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Classroom Authority

Posted By: Amanda Plummer on May 15, 2003
In my own teaching and inquiry I have approached the question of authority from a slightly different perspective. I am curious about how teachers teach and how learners learn, and more specifically how to fit these to things together. That is, how can I teach so that my learners learn? Then --- how does the persona I assume in the classroom affect learning? If I am act as an authoritarian, either in repsect to the subject matter or the classroom discipline, I may affect the students' level of respect, but have I helped them learn?

I recently stumbled on Paolo Friere's book, "Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage" (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1998). I found that his writing helped me resolve my own turmoil about the relationship between teacher and student. Teaching (and learning) is a dialog that we enter together. As the teacher I take responsibility for guiding and informing the dialog, as well as the responsibility for maintaining discipline so that the dialog can continue in a productive manner. However, I also acknowledge that the student is an active member in the dialog, who brings knowledge and experience to the interaction, and from whom I may learn something in return.

In my own teaching I find this works much of the time. I pose a problem, or question, or learning challenge, then the students and I work through it together. I don't see myself as having surrendered my authority to the students, I'm just sharing it. More important, though, is sharing the responsibility for learning --- giving students a stake in their own learning. Many students are puzzled by this approach at first, but I've found that most of my students are able and willing to rise to the challenge of entering a dialog.

Another writer whom I've found helpful on this topic is Jerome Bruner, particularly "The Culture of Education".

I hope this isn't too far off your topic to be helpful. Good luck!

Amanda K. Plummer
Thread Hierarchy
 classroom authority in practice by David Gehle on April 9, 2003
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