The Learning Space

The Learning Space

Ralph H. Johnson
1993 3M Teaching Fellow

have been teaching at the university level since 1963, and I still love being with students in the learning space. Over my long career, I have learned and been taught many lessons that form the basis of my teaching style and philosophy.

I carefully prepare an agenda for every class. However, I regard it as modifiable in case something else more important emerges, and dispensable in those rare moments when we hit pay dirt! I regret those times when, because of the agenda, I said something like, “It would be really interesting to pursue this further, but we have to move on.” No, no! When you strike gold, mine it for all it’s worth!

An important part of the art of teaching is knowing which role to take on. A good teacher is prepared to shift from one to another at a moment’s notice, which is why teaching is difficult and wearing. If students are to learn, which means taking risks, then I must create a safe and welcoming environment.

I can’t stress enough that as much as I know, I am always learning from the insights of my students. From this it follows, “No dark sarcasm in the classroom” (Pink Floyd). Humour is important, but never at the students’ expense.

I try to be honest and real. When I blow it, I fess up. When I don’t know something, I admit it.

My pedagogy is not egalitarian-! do not let students call me by my first name-but it is based on mutual respect and cooperative engagement. Teacher and learner have different roles and different responsibilities. I am responsible for what happens and what does not happen in the classroom. Pacing is important. I am not afraid to entertain if that will help me achieve my objectives. I want my students to experience the joy and fun of learning.

My students have a natural desire to learn. There may be layers of cultural drag in the way of that desire. My first job is to connect with that desire. My second is to present material in appropriate ways that will feed that desire. My third job begins when something gets in the way of a student’s learning. I have to work with the student to figure out what the obstacle is and then help develop a strategy for how to remove it. Often teachers complain about these impediments as if they were external, supervenient. But really, these obstacles are natural occurrences, only to be expected. They are a sign for us to roll up our sleeves, get to work and earn our keep.