A Desire to Make a Difference

A Desire to Make a Difference

John Mitterer
2004 3M Teaching Fellow

hile at McMaster University for my Ph.D. studies, I became a teaching assistant in Dr. Ralph Morrison’s Introductory Statistics course. This was the true beginning of my teaching career. It revolved around working with one student who had failed the course twice before and was giving it one last try. I worked with her in as many different ways as I could conceive. I WANTED her to pass that course. In the end, she did not. What she DID do was bake braided egg bread for me and write her heartfelt thanks for my efforts on her behal£ Through her, I found the motivation I would adopt toward my own students for the rest of my teaching career, which has extended over twenty-five additional years. One of Harold Bloom’s books is entitled The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. Bloom believes that the creative spirit is driven by an anxiety of influence, a desire to make a difference. I am sure that I have that anxiety when it comes to teaching.

Since then, I have incessantly invented and reinvented myself as a teacher, as I search for what will invite my students to successful educational experiences. I have always remained open to new ideas about teaching, whether they spring from informed practice, theory or research. In this regard, my approach to teaching remains to this day unabashedly eclectic. Until recently, I had not found an overarching theory of teaching; rather I would have said I was a craftsman, a bricoleur. This is still one of my core attitude·s. My goal is always and simply to “get it across” as best I can and every new bit of pedagogical knowledge I encounter constitutes a possible means to that end.