The Amateur Hour
by Zimmerman, Jonathan (Johns Hopkins University Press)
I started reading this book in the first few years and it already makes me BUM in my mind. I am reminded of myself, in my first teaching experience, in front of the first-year class of a degree course in nursing. A lot of noise, and chatter everywhere, I was unable to keep the classroom, I was absent from my body, my breath, and my mind: absorbed in the task of standing, talking, and moving the mouse. I don’t even know how I managed to get through the door and do my performance, bad and bordering on the grotesque. I don’t remember much, except many eyes looking at me.
Then I remember that in a subsequent course a student tells me:
- Did you say in the previous lesson that the experiment is by Ash and how did you say that the experiment is by Philip Zimbardo?
And I enlightened: she was criticizing me, wow how nice! Then someone at least listens to me. What a gratification! The student gave me all the courage I needed to finish the course.
“We’re amateurs. That doesn’t mean we teach badly, because amateurs can sometimes be really good. What it means is that we don’t have codified understandings of “good” and “bad” in the first place” (preface).
The book focuses on Mark Hopkins — an American inspiring teacher (who I had never heard before from my side). The book develops into chapters on the reconstruction of the traditional teaching method in America and the development of the school system. The reconstruction of the history of teaching in America is impressive and rich in detail. And the author is right: it is the knowledge that must be shared to create a basis for finding a shared background among those teachers.
The reading is rich and perhaps as a European, I feel less interested in knowing all the details. However, the work is interesting, critical, and admirable. Such a reading on teaching in Europe or other contexts in the world is entirely desirable.
“But I also believe that teaching is a deeply personal and even spiritual act that defies rational organization, which accounts for much of its magic as well as its miseries.(…). One hundred years ago, Max Weber warned that the iron cage of bureaucracy would squeeze the charismatic spirit out of modern life. Even as we work for systemic change in college teaching, which has languished for too long under the dead hand of tradition, we also need to keep alive the mystique — and the charisma — that drew so many of us to it in the first place (p. 234).