Teaching A Composition Class: Combine and Conquer, Tobin
I think the essence of Tobin’s article contained by his appreciation that: “our relationship [as teachers] to the whole class is not just the sum of the individual relationships we have established” (81). In others words, like writing, teaching is complex and is best understood as a holistic enterprise. I have been consistently impressed by Tobin’s non-utilitarian, holistic approach to writing and teaching. I loved the beginning of this essay because of its frank vividness—it really gives us a sense of what it feels like to try to stimulate an unresponsive class. His experience was, in fact, not dissimilar from that of my mentor today at 8:00 AM. Tobin narrates some of the futile, more or less Cartesian strategies he tries to apply to both his students and himself during his morning class. All these strategies prove unsuccessful in the face of the student’s impassivity. Analyzing this experience leads Tobin to the insight that, unlike in the writing classes he teaches in the literature classes he formerly taught he often strives to create a “serious, lively, yet focused” atmosphere. He recognizes his pedagogical approach to writing classes as unfortunate. His discovery is that 1) emphasizing voice 2) responding to writing in individual conferences and 3) encouraging collaborative work completely change the experience for him, as well as for his students. He is quick to clarify, however, that this doesn’t change everything—there will be days after all when, no matter what, students will be unresponsive and the class will pass slower than usual, and that is normal too. The way the holistic classroom operates can be illustrated by a multiplicity of metaphors: the teacher as performer, dinner party host, parent, and preacher. Tobin concludes that regardless of which models we follow intermittently, we need to consider how 1) our relationship to the whole class supports or interferes with the individual relationships we are attempting to create and 2) how our behaviors/associations intersect with those of the students.