Iím the Teacher, Youíre the Student: A Semester in the University Classroom
reviewed by Maria Cardelle-Elawar - 2005
Title: Iím the Teacher, Youíre the Student: A Semester in the University Classroom
Author(s): Patrick Allitt
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia
ISBN: 0812218876, Pages: 244, Year: 2004
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Im the Teacher, Youre the Student presents Patrick Allitts diary entries through a year of university teaching. His descriptions are so vivid and the book so filled with anecdotes that it makes you feel as if you were in his classroom with him. No matter what subject you might teach, Allitts narrative will enable you to reflect upon your own teaching and engage in the story of the learners in his classroom.
Allitt leads us slowly through the developmental process of understanding the complexity of teaching as we grow professionally. He is a reflective thinker, and by presenting day-to-day class activities, he shows the challenge of the developmental process of his students. Allitts approach exemplifies the employment of metacognitive knowledge to inform teaching through his use of self-regulatory strategies that transform his lessons into a coaching and relevant contemporary teaching experience.
Allitts keen insights enable the reader to witness the many roles that a teacher plays in the classroom. An Englishman by birth, Allitt teaches American history for the period between 1877 and 2000. In his classroom, we see the various phases of teaching. First, he sets his goals for planning in the class. Second, he interacts with students, he learns their names, and he entertains them and engages them in the subject matter. Finally, he evaluates and assesses not only his students, but also his own effectiveness as a teacher.
Allitt emphasizes that metacognitive knowledge of what it is to be a learner is essential to understanding individual differences in the classroom. Professional growth is also a key element of teacher effectiveness. Allitt advocates becoming a reflective thinker, eliciting the voices of students, and guiding them to understand the subject matter of a class using dialogical retrospection. Through self-reflection and dialogue with himself, Allitt provides the reader with strategies for educating students about the real worldstrategies that show them not only how to master content, but how to learn how to think historically. Chapter 8 exemplifies listening to students voices and interpreting history from a personality perspective.
The author writes in a lively style that makes the book interesting, and he alerts the reader to the major challenges of teaching and learning. For example, he discusses plagiarism. Plagiarism has always an effect on me. An invariable bad effect. First, it shows that the student wasnt willing to do the work he or she was supposed to do, and looks for an easy way out. That in turn, suggests a lack of interest in the course (p. 95).
Grading is also one of the most difficult duties teachers have. Allitt addresses the issue with a realism that speaks to the frustrations of the majority of instructors who have to assess students performance. After all, he points out, any test is only a sample of possible tests.
Im the Teacher, Youre the Student gives the reader the experience of being in a lively classroom in which topics are described, discussed, and demonstrated using a variety of teaching approaches. For example, in describing his fifteenth class, Allitt notes his use of a resource particular to his institution: Now that I have learned everyones name, I add a new element to the routine by starting class with music. I began this introductory course tradition three years ago and resume it today. Taking advantage of Emorys big music library, which owns seven or eight thousands CDs (p. 114).
Allitt challenges educators at all levels to grasp the real-world implications of teachers who teach for thinking versus those who teach for performing on standardized tests. By using a dialectic retrospective approach, he does not teach history, but instead he teaches how to think historically. He highlights the significant changes that teachers need to make to empower themselves.
Perhaps the most impressive, exemplary, and innovative aspect of the book is Allitts magical way of linking the challenges of both research and practice. This book provides a model for bridging the gap between being a teacher and a learner. It makes a significant contribution to the literature on teaching as a self-reflective model. Through reading the book, we become better able to understand students individual differences and are encouraged to develop professionally as we reflect upon our strengths and focus on how to overcome our weaknesses.
Furthermore, Allitt addresses the importance of creating a classroom environment and culture of true dialogical thinking. Every student has an opportunity to be successful because his or her voice is valued. Self-reflection is prompted by the teachers metacognitive patterns in setting goals and assessing performance. In the last chapter of the book, Allitt strives to deepen our sense of our own responsibility by providing a clear, concise, and motivational discussion of grade inflation and the importance of establishing the conditions for teachers to effectively cultivate students dispositions toward their own learning. Who is in favor of grade inflation? he asks. Nobody. Who practices grade inflation? he continues. Everybody (p. 218).
I consider this an excellent book for teachers (experts and novices), researchers, educators, and policymakers; they will find it extremely useful in formulating questions, hypotheses, and program evaluations. We need a book like this, one that, without prescribing, illustrates successful teaching practices.
Through this book the reader can learn how to practice Allitts approach to teaching effectively. According to Allitt, teachers must model motivation and be reflective thinkers in order to elicit students voices. What comes to mind immediately about the book is its ring of authenticity in analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of teaching history from textbooks that provide a narrow perspective versus a global perspective. The authors narrative comes alive as the he examines facets of injustice, prejudice, and discrimination within the U.S. historical tradition. He then analyzes these concepts from a modern global perspective by encouraging teaching outside the box and by reflecting on the past to improve the present: There is also much about which [U.S. citizens] and their children should feel pride and gratitude. There has never been a powerful nation in the history of the world so generous, so idealistic, and so dedicated to the principles of democracy and human equality (p. 15).
In sum, this book is written by someone who knows teacher education firsthand. It is a lively read and an excellent critique of the current orientation toward standardized testing performance.