Good vs. Great Teaching: Are the best teachers born or made?


– I’m Jennifer Sedland and on behalf of the Alpha Gamma Sigma Club, the Future Teachers Society and the Academic Learning
Center Tutoring Club, I’d like to welcome all of
you into our presentation. Our guest speaker today
is Dr. Shannon Kincaid. He’s Associate Professor of Philosophy and the topic is going to be
good versus great teaching. Currently his research projects include publishing on the ethical
responsibility of educators and it is my pleasure, because
he was my former professor so I know it will be very enlightening. And without further ado, may I present to you Dr. Shannon Kincaid.
(audience applauds) – Hey, come on in. I always get nervous around
the word enlightening. I know nothing about electricity. My name’s Shannon Kincaid and this is my sixth year at Queensborough and I have been in the City
University of New York for… Nine years. I went to kindergarten,
I went to first grade. I went from second grade all
the way to my senior year and then I decided to go to college. And eleven years later. (laughs) It wasn’t very speedy. When my son asked me what grade were you in when you
graduated from college, I think I, what would that be? Grade 24? (laughs)
(students laugh) It’s really depressing
when you think about it so just try not to think about it. I went to school for 23 years. Most people go for anywhere from eight to 12 to 14 to 16, 20 to even longer. I was one of the poor
suckers that liked school so much they made me leave. (laughs) And unusually I think that’s a good thing. You have to defend education. And you’ll see in a
moment I’m gonna give you some reasons as to why
education is so important. But I think there’s a downside to that and the downside is because everybody has been exposed to education, everybody thinks that
they know what it is. Regardless of whether
or not they’ve actually been trained in teaching,
regardless of whether or not they’ve actually stood
in front of a classroom. And one of the things that I always like to do to my students, I
don’t have very many of you. You were in… Don’t have that many. I want you to take my class, but… (students laugh) ‘Cause I work really hard to make sure that you understand how
difficult this job is. How many people in here are
planning on becoming teachers? (students laugh) (imitates maniacal laugh)
(students laugh) Good teachers make it look easy. But trust me, it’s not easy. It’s one of the most challenging jobs that you can possibly have. And what I hope to do today is I hope to give you an idea of
some of the challenges and some of the rewards of teaching. And some of the things that you need to keep in mind when you’re trying to become the best teacher
that you can actually become. Now with regards to the
rewards of teaching, I would just start out by saying this. One of my favorite
quotes is by a Greek poet by the name of Philoxenus
and his quote goes like this. He says, “We should honor our
teachers more than our parents “because while our
teachers cause us to live, “our teachers cause us to live well.” and I like the quote because it says something about the nature of education. And it said something about what it is that we’re doing when we
try to educate individuals. And to me it points into the heart of what pedagogy is all about. Now in all honesty,
pedagogy is tricky business. If you’ve had your education courses or you’ve had your philosophy courses, you know that pedagogy
has something roughly to do with the art and
the craft of education. Some people will define
it as the quote unquote philosophy of education,
etymologically it means something different from that. Etymologically it means
leadership of the youth which makes it even more
complicated to define. But defining pedagogy is so difficult because, at least for me, I think that anybody that’s
thought about the issue comes to realize very
quickly that pedagogy is that field of human inquiry which I think is probably a the most
important, but is also b, the most philosophically
dense form of inquiry. It’s one thing to talk about teaching. It’s another thing to talk
about what it means to teach and how to teach and that’s where we get into, hey, come on in, how you doing. You can’t talk about
pedagogy without talking about theories of knowledge. In other words you can’t
talk about pedagogy without talking about epistemology. And this sounds weird but when you talk about epistemology and
you talk about pedagogy, you’re talking about really dumb things. Dumb things like what makes
two plus two equals four? What makes a belief true or
when is a belief justified? You also have to talk about things like the nature of reality. What kind of world do we live in? Do we have to say
something about the nature of reality to say something
about what truth is or do we have to say
something about what truth is before we can talk about
the nature of reality? We also have to ask ontological questions. We’ve gotta ask about what
sorts of things exist. Do relationships between people exist? What is it that makes a parent, or what is it that makes a
student teacher relationship? Does a student exist because they stand in relation to a teacher, does a teacher exist simply because they
stand in relation to a student? What is the nature of
that sort of relationship? You can’t talk about pedagogy
without talking about values. And what sort of values that we’re trying to bring across in the classroom. Is it our job as teachers to try and train people with regards
to things like morality? Like justice, is it our job to
steer clear of those things? Is it our job to teach
people about aesthetics? What about beauty, is beauty something that we leave for individuals to decide for themselves or do
we try to provide them with some sort of guidance in beauty? What about things like political
and social institutions? Are classrooms places where we shouldn’t be discussing things like political values or are they the place where we should be discussing political values? As most of you probably
know, it’s forbidden by the New York City
Department of Education for a teacher to wear a
political button in a classroom. Is that right, I mean is a teacher doing something wrong by
espousing a certain value in a classroom where openness and dialogue are supposed to be the name of the game? You also can’t talk about
teaching and pedagogy without talking about
things like sociology. You can’t talk about it without talking about things like the family. You can’t talk about it without talking about the nature of economics. Who’s gonna pay for all of this? And so when you start talking about issues of pedagogy you start realizing that it’s not one thing
you’re talking about. It’s this entire grouping of issues. They’re so intertwined that
you can’t pluck ’em apart. That’s one of the reasons why, I mean how many people have
taken, how many education majors have taken your philosophy class yet? (students laugh) That’s why everybody walks
into my class like this. (students laugh) “I don’t wanna take this class, “I don’t wanna take this class!” And why don’t you wanna take that class? ‘Cause you’re afraid. (laughs) You know what’s gonna happen. It’s my job to take you and go like this. (water bottle shaking loudly)
(students laugh) So that when you walk out of the class, I get people that walk out of the class, geez I was afraid you were
gonna have me questioning God and now I’m questioning whether one plus one equals two! (laughs) But that’s the nature of the business. It’s the nature of what a good teacher is! A good teacher has something to do with cultivating inquiry. A good teacher has something to do with not only passing knowledge on to subsequent generations
but with also instilling in them a sense of intellectual curiosity. And that’s the name of the game. And I hate to say it and
I don’t wanna sound mean. But there’s a lot of people that teach that shouldn’t be teaching.
(students laugh) I’m sorry, it’s…
(students laugh) And this reaches into the heart of the lecture that I’m
trying to present today. Is that I really think at bottom, help me. I think at bottom most
people can be a bad teacher. I think most people can
be a competent teacher. But I think very few people
can be good teachers. And I say that because I think that being a great teacher
demands a set of talents. It demands a set of skills and it demands a set of commitments that a lot of people are either unwilling or unable to cultivate in their lives. Now we can’t talk about pedagogy in contemporary American society without talking about the
philosopher John Dewey. I love John Dewey, I wrote part of my dissertation on John Dewey. John Dewey is one of the most abused and misunderstood philosophers in the history of Western philosophy. People take this poor
guy and they twist him and they pull him and they push him and they take his words out of context and they take his ideas and they try to make them mean things that they don’t. And you are at some point in time, if you haven’t already, in your training as teachers going to be exposed to the ideas of this gentleman. And one of the things that
I wanna disabuse you of are some of the myths that
people have about John Dewey. In an effort to clarify what I mean about the talents and the skills that are necessary to be a great teacher. John Dewey broke education
into four basic categories. And these categories were intertwined. He said first and foremost, education is about a transmission of custom, okay? What we were doing as educators is we were taking what we received from our parents and from our mentors and from our teachers and we
were passing it on to you. And a second part of education was that we were attempting to instill in you a sense of the social order that makes this thing that
we call society possible. Let’s face it, if we
don’t have a basic respect for each other and if we’re not nice to each other and if let
Johnny steal Annie’s candy or we let Steve kick Johnny’s butt on the playground,
(students laugh) things are not gonna work. So there’s gotta be discipline and there’s gotta be custom and values. But there’s gotta be more than that and this is one of the things that I think that John Dewey recognized. Above custom and above social order, see if you’ve just got
custom and social order, how do I say this in a nice way? If you’ve just got
custom and social order, we would still be living in caves throwing rocks at each other, all right? We would’ve never gone anywhere. But what education has to be for somebody like John Dewey is a step beyond that. It’s where the educator engages in the process of guiding
human experience, okay? In taking the experiences and… What’s the word I’m looking for? Predispositions of the
youth and guiding them and moving in a direction
which is productive. And when I say productive I mean this from an experiential sense. One of the things that John Dewey meant when he talked about experience. Look, experience, we have a tendency to think of experience as
that video camera, right? We sit there and we go like this. And sorry video camera, I
don’t mean to insult you. But we have a tendency to think of experience as like this. Right, we sit there and
it just comes in, right? And we sit, that’s why it’s so funny when philosophers watch
things like reality TV, right? It’s supposed to be experience. It’s like, it’s not! (laughs) It’s not, non-experience
because it’s you sitting there watching some guy eating spiders with drool runnin’ out of the
corner of your mouth, right? That’s not experience. You can’t replace the
classroom environment with a CD because what do you have? You have people sitting there passively receiving this stuff. What you have to have is you have to have this in-your-face. (growls) I’m challenging you,
look wait ’till you get in front of a classroom,
see you haven’t been in front of a classroom enough. When you get in front of a classroom and the people that have been in front of a classroom, you’ll back me up on this. You spend any time at all in front of a classroom, each class is different. And if you’re paying attention, you’re watching everybody in the room. And you’re seeing how they’re reacting. I can see who’s turning off,
I can see who’s turning on. And so it becomes my job to make sure that if you’re turning off,
I’m dragging the experience, I’m dragging you back into
the experience, right? If you’re here, I need to make sure that I’m keeping you here. And so the whole key becomes
how can I turn this thing that we call (groans) chalk and talk or whatever (groans) into something that grabs you and pulls you in and forces you to pay attention to it. That’s what a good educator has to do. They have to be able to… Accelerate to be able to exemplify, to be able to pull you in and to force you to actively structure what
it is that you’re receiving. In other words to think about it, not just memorize it, right? In high school what did you learn to do? – Memorize.
– Memorize. – Memorize! That’s not learning, okay? Learning is something different and that’s Dewey’s fourth category. Education is not memorization. It has never been memorization. If it was, it would just be custom. Memorization is done. When you get to college,
you are not memorizing. When you get to college, you are engaged in the process of continual growth. And that’s Dewey’s fourth category. You’re not learning by memorizing, you are learning by doing. You are learning by
engaging in the process. And that’s what a bad teacher doesn’t do. A bad teacher stands up and goes one, blah, two blah, three blah. Any questions? A good teacher goes one, blah. Is this true, do you agree with this? Does this matter to you, does this match with your experience? If you believe this, what
are the consequences of this? What about the counterargument
to this position? Think critically about it,
think speculatively about it. Think about how this matches up with other parts of your experience. Think about it in terms of your college experience as a whole. Here’s a stupid question for you. How many people have
taken a sociology class? How many people are taking
an education class or have? How many people are taking psychology? Which one is right?
(students laugh) It’s a stupid question isn’t it, why? Why? Why is it a dumb question, you laughed? Because they’re all right. They’re just different perspectives, they’re different ways
of looking at the world. And that’s what you’re doing when you are getting a college education is that you are cultivating the ability to look at the world through
different perspectives. And that’s what a good teacher does is they help you do that. But it’s a very personal experience. It’s something that you have to throw out. It’s something, it takes a risk and it takes certain talents and it takes certain commitments. First and foremost, you’ve
gotta put passion into this. You’ve gotta care about it. I don’t care if you’re teaching
second grade mathematics or if you’re teaching
philosophy in college. You’ve gotta be passionate
about your discipline and you’ve gotta think that it matters and you’ve got to have
the speculative ability as a teacher to make
sure that you can connect with your students’ learning in their third grade mathematics
classroom with what they’re learning in their
third grade science classroom. You ever heard this
story about John Dewey? You ever heard of John
Dewey’s Laboratory School? You’ve heard of it, right? You know how the curriculum in John Dewey’s Laboratory
School was set up? You’re not gonna believe this. You know what the fourth
grade curriculum was? They did the school finances.
(students laugh) They did the taxes,
they balanced the books. That was their curriculum. The first graders recreated, every year, recreated Phoenician society. They did weavings, they grew food. They recreated the boats,
they did all this stuff because they were the newcomers. They like the basic ones. By the time they got to
fifth and sixth grade, what were you doin’, you were doin’, you were running the kitchens. You were in charge of ordering the food. You were in charge of doing that stuff. Now what do you have to know? To be able to do that sort of stuff, you’ve gotta know mathematics and you’ve gotta know long division and you’ve gotta know all that stuff. But how are you gonna teach it? Look at how John Dewey thought, he goes I can teach this two ways. I can say okay here’s how we
add two plus two equals four. Any questions little Johnny, right? Or you can say we usually go through four boxes of Pop Tarts, sorry
I’m eating Pop Tarts lately. (students laugh)
We go through four boxes of Pop Tarts every morning,
we’ve only got two, how many more do you think
we need for tomorrow morning? Now which one, which form of addition, which form of teaching
addition is gonna stick? The abstract way, where you just do it where it has nothing to
do with the kid’s reality and where they drag themselves home, do their homework, and
then go out to play? Or the type of homework where they are actually engaged in the process? Well obviously the one where
they’re engaged in the process. And it’s where the teacher functions not as an expert but as a guide. And that’s the big difference, look. It comes down to this. A bad teacher is a babysitter. And a bad one.
(students laugh) A good teacher is somebody that functions as a guide, that brings all of these curricular activities together. That helps the student understand how they hang together
in a cohesive whole. The great teacher, now I’m not
sayin’ I’m a great teacher. But the great teacher is someone that takes it to the next level. And a great teacher is somebody that takes their obligations
as a professional seriously. And this is where it gets
really, really depressing. You think you’re gonna be done learning about education when you graduate? No. Look at the doctor, well if you’re like me when you’re in college you
didn’t have health insurance. But let’s hope you have health insurance. Look at your doctor, when you
go into your doctor’s office what do you see sitting on his desk? Thanks a lot.
(students laugh) What do you see sittin’ on his desk? – A stethoscope?
– Stacks and stacks and stacks of journals,
the latest literature, everything that’s coming out, why? So that this guy can keep
up, or this woman can keep up on the latest stuff that’s
happening in the field. They have to be, otherwise
they’re no longer competent in their profession, right? What else are you gonna find? You’re gonna find tacked on their wall or in their, taped on their desk, or in one of their books, a code of ethics that they have to live up to
as a professional physician. Right? What does it mean, staying
up with the profession. Treating each and every individual that they come into contact with respect. Making sure that they report colleagues that are not holding up to the bargains that they agreed to with regards to the nature of the profession itself. Why do you wanna become a teacher? Why? I’m gonna go through the
answers you can’t give. You ready, I’ve got ’em written down. (students laugh) See if you’re thinking, wait a minute, I don’t think I wanna become a teacher. I don’t wanna make you think like that. But I want you to go into this honestly and realize how difficult
this profession is. Here’s some of the stock answers of why people wanna become teachers. I like kids.
(students laugh) Don’t ever say it, I don’t wanna hear it. If you like kids have some.
(students laugh) I’m good around kids, okay. If you think you’re good around kids, volunteer in a classroom around 30 kids. Do it for about three weeks
and then ask yourself, can I really spend the next 30 years around these maniacs, okay?
(students laugh) I like the idea of having two months off a year.
(students laugh) I got bad news for you.
– No other reason? – I got bad news for you. You know how I spend my two months off a year?
– Preparing. – The first seven weeks is curled up into the fetal position
(students laugh) trying to recover from the emotional and physical trauma
(students laugh) that I’ve just endured
over the last nine months. It seems like steady
work with good benefits. Get a union job, okay? Because this, there’s
a lot of jobs out there that are a lot easier that’ll give you the same pay and the same benefits. I think it would be cool to get off work at 3:15 in the afternoon. (students laugh) It isn’t gonna happen for you
’cause when you’re sitting there at 10:00 waiting
on the one kid’s parents to show up for the
parent-teacher conference. – But don’t you have–
– You gotta grade. You gotta do the reports,
you gotta do all the stuff. You gotta have, if you’re in primary or secondary education you
gotta do all your planners. All that stuff’s gotta be set. It’s not what just
happens in the classroom. – And conferences–
– And conferences and everything, yeah, you’ll be, oh. You’ll be looking at your friends that work 40 hours a week and be going oh, must be nice, right.
(students laugh) So don’t think that
those are the benefits. Ask yourself the question again and don’t answer it this way. Why do I wanna teach? Your answer should sound
something like this. I want a challenging job
that pushes me to my limits, both intellectual,
emotional, and physical. I want a job that is constantly forcing me to become better at what I do. You will never be a good teacher
if you think you are one. You have to be constantly
striving for that next level. I believe I have the unique type of skills that are necessary to
become a successful teacher. Empathy, compassion,
intellectual curiosity. And I want to make a
positive impact on society, both for the current generation and for generations to come. Here’s the bad news about being a teacher. You won’t know if you did any good. Because the good that you
do, you won’t ever see it. It’ll happen, I really
hate to sound depressing. It’ll happen after you’re dead. (students laugh) Because you, it’s like being a farmer. You’ll plant a seed somewhere
and you won’t see it grow. And out of that seed will
come another hundred seeds and you won’t see those grow. And out of those seeds will come another hundred seeds and
you won’t see those grow. And so the benefits that you get, the value that you see of becoming a good teacher, you don’t see those. It’s not something that,
every once in a while a student will come back and say “Loved your class.”
(students laugh) – [Male Student] I have a question. But shouldn’t you think that maybe I have left a seed somewhere?
– Yeah! Oh I didn’t say that, yeah oh of course! It’s one of the reasons
that you get into it. You’re making a positive contribution. But if you think you’re gonna see that positive contribution, don’t get your hopes up. Because it’s those
little, it’s those little, those little effects that add
up to the big whole picture. And it’s something that John Dewey says and I’m gonna read a quote from him later. But it’s something that John Dewey says. Look if you look at a really good teacher and what they do, they won’t ever really see it or appreciate it. But at the same time,
by being a good teacher, they lay the groundwork
for the development of more good teachers in the future. And that’s the key to
growth in society, okay? There’s a popular myth in American society that anyone can teach
and while the sources of this myth are a mystery to me, I think that it has something to do with the fact that we’ve all spent a lot of time around teachers. Some of them are really bad teachers though we never really knew
what made them bad teachers. They were mean or they
just didn’t seem to care. Some of them were good but a
few of them were great teachers but it was hard to know
what made them tick. I had some great teachers who
were incredibly hard on me. I had great teachers,
some of the best teachers I ever had made my cry, seriously. But I also had some great teachers who were the nicest people
I’ve ever known, go figure. Just as there is no
formula for bad teaching, there is no formula for
great teaching either. And this is the thesis of my presentation. By and large, and absent some
neurobiological disorder, I think that with the right sort of training and education most people can be made to be
competent in the classroom. But there are those who simply lack the basic skillset of efficient teaching. If you don’t have empathy, if you don’t have intellectual curiosity, you should never be let
loose around our kids, sorry. And finally, there are those select few that have the unique set of personal and intellectual characteristics that make for a great teacher. Now the great teachers are the ones that function as role
models of democratic living. You have to set an example, okay? You’re not gonna set an example
with the clothes you wear. 99 bucks at Marshalls.
(students laugh) You’re not gonna set an
example with the car you drive. ’96 Honda Civic!
(students laugh) But you have to set an example by the life that you live and the attitude towards intellectual
curiosity that you possess. Look this sounds dumb,
but if there’s one thing you should get out of college, it’s a desire to read the
New York Times everyday or the Wall Street Journal everyday because you wanna know what’s going on in the world and you wanna
know how you connect with it. Great teachers are, in Dewey’s words, mediators of experience. And again this goes back
to my earlier definition of experience, experience isn’t just the sensations of the moment but the understanding of the processes that have made this moment possible and the future consequences
of our actions in this moment. That’s right back to your point. This means that teachers
must be highly educated not simply in their discipline but in all of the forms of inquiry that their discipline touches upon. How these disciplines fit within the entire scope of human experience and what makes them connect
with our lives in general. As Dewey argues, this is an
almost superhuman assignment. The educator who is able to quote integrate the activities
of a busy classroom or an extramural project with the skill of a great orchestral conductor and the resulting harmony is
a wonderful experience indeed. But these teachers are rare and we know very little about how they can be trained. Yet we do know that great
teachers can be found and the first step in this process is the cultivation of the tools necessary for individuals to reflect on whether or not they possess the traits that make for a great teacher. Things like patience,
intellectual curiosity, the ability to think both
critically and speculatively, and a basic sense of awe and wonder at the world and a desire
to better understand themselves and the society
in which they live. These are things that we can teach about but we cannot instill an appreciation for these sorts of things in those that have no desire to appreciate them. And those that can are the future great teachers of the world, thank you. (students applaud) I’ll take any questions. – [Male Student] I have a question. – Yeah what’s going on?
– All right how you doing? – Oh, I’ve been better
but I’m hanging in there. – What do you think makes a great teacher in your opinion?
– I don’t know. I mean I tried to give you an outline. You remember when I said the part about absent some
neuro-biological disorder? I think that there are some people that just, and I’m not criticizing it. I’m not trying to make a judgment on it. But I think that there’s some people that have trouble empathizing with the needs of other people, okay? I think those people would be great in business.
(students laugh) But you know what, I don’t want ’em, I don’t think I want ’em around my kid. I’ve seen what, hey, how are you? Pleasure to see you.
– I was just seeing– – I’ve seen in my own experience and the experience with my son, I’ve seen teachers that just
can’t connect with kids. And I’m not saying that they’re bad people but I am saying that I don’t think they should be in the classroom. They may make good administrators, they may make good business people, they may be very effective at other things but I think that’s part of it. You’ve got to be able to empathize. You’ve got to be flexible. One of the things that scares me the most is when somebody walks into the classroom and thinks that there’s a
one-size-fits-all approach to teaching every kid in that classroom. You’ve got to be able to say look, what works with this kid
may not work with that kid, may not work with that kid and one of the reasons my kid’s
in a special school now. And one of the reasons why was that they walked in and they said, here’s your homework assignment. Well my kid is the
type, and I’m not saying that he’s super smart or anything. But you give my kid five
long division problems and he knows how to do ’em. Now you give him 30 and
that’s busy time for him. And he doesn’t wanna waste his time doing 30 because he doesn’t need it. He knows how to do it after five. So he needs that sort of flexibility. But what’ve you got? First of all you’ve got
the strictures coming from the administration that says well this is the way it has to be done. These kids have to be doing x, y, and z. But then you’ve also got the assumptions that are coming out of certain, I’m not gonna say everybody, but certain schools of education that say this is the
model that you should use. And I think we have to be
more flexible than that. And that’s something that occurs on an individual level
and that flexibility is not something that comes easy. It demands intellectual curiosity. It demands… It goes back to the part in the essay where I said look, to be a teacher you’ve gotta be smart. And that means that you’ve got, if you’re teaching
third grade mathematics, you better be able to answer your little student’s
question about grammar. Because the relationships between grammar and mathematics can be very close and can be very profound sometimes. Talking from a
philosophical point of view. And so you’ve gotta be able to integrate all those different avenues,
all those different areas of knowledge, it’s not just about a third grade teacher knowing how to teach third grade math. And I think that that’s a challenge. I think that’s a challenge that a lot of people won’t undertake or simply can’t. So that’s what I mean, that’s what I mean when I say a great teacher. Now how do we teach somebody to have that? I don’t know, I don’t
know, I don’t think we can. In a way, to a degree,
I don’t think you can. How do you teach somebody
that it’s important to understand the world around them? They’re either gonna, I mean I can lead that horse to water but
I can’t make him drink. See that’s what makes us so special and that’s why nobody gets us. There’s a lot of respect for teachers but nobody understands us
because there’s so many people don’t understand what
it is that drives us. We ask questions that nobody else asks. We engage in forms of inquiry
that nobody else engages in. I mean think of my job,
you’ve seen my job in action. What makes two plus two equals four true. I mean I spend weeks every
year on that question. And the students are just going. (head bangs on desk)
(students laughing) And they wanna say why, because my, don’t take a picture of that!
(students laugh) Because my students are just like okay because it equals four and
it’s like but how do you know? And that’s the weird
stuff that teachers ask and I happen to think
it’s something special. Maybe it’s a defect, I don’t know. (students laugh) It’s a tough question. – [Female Student] Out of curiosity, what was your motivation to get into teaching and how did you get to the field that you are in now? – Wow, is that a long, long, story. I just finished a book where I described, I’ve worked in 62 different job titles for 22 different employers
in five different states. (students laugh) I’ve been everything from a chef to a custodian to an actor to a… What else, I forget ’em all. The one commonality of all the jobs that I had, that I realized the thing that I always liked was I always liked helping people understand what it was that I was trying to do and to help people understand themselves
and the world better. And I think that’s what
drew me into philosophy and what drew me into teaching
is I was reading Socrates and I ran across the Socratic Dictum and the Socratic Dictum says know thyself. And I went, well that doesn’t
seem very hard, know thyself. My name’s Shannon Kincaid,
my Social Security number is, (students laugh)
well I’m not gonna say that. My Social Security number
is, I’m five foot 10 1/2, I weigh 145 pounds, blah blah blah. But then I started thinking about it and I realized well know thyself, doesn’t just mean knowing
the facts about me. It means knowing who I
am and what my values are and knowing what my values are means knowing what my society is about. And knowing what my society is about means knowing where it’s come from and the history of all of this stuff and how these ideas, and
how these innovations have affected the person that I am. And in a weird sort of
way, I’m sorry to say, but I’m an addict, I can’t stop. I’m always engaged in this process of trying to understand
who I am at a deeper level. Now there’s only one job in the world that lets you do that and pays you for it. And that’s teaching. And that’s what I mean, that’s what, I’m serious when I say it. You cannot appreciate
until you have done the job how difficult it is and
how challenging it is, both emotionally and intellectually, because it is constantly forcing you to go to that next level but for me, it’s my lifeblood, I can’t
imagine not being able to do it. Now I have my two months
off in the summer. I spend seven of those
weeks in my fetal position. But on the eighth week,
I’m dying to go back. I’m dying to go back
because I wanna go back in and I wanna, think of what my job is! I get to talk with some of
the most interesting people in the world about some of the stuff that interests me and
some of the questions that are almost unanswerable. If you go into third grade teaching and you’re teaching mathematics, look at what you get to do. You get to take students and you get to introduce them into the
adult world of mathematics. You get to allow them to function and to move to that next level. To cultivate that experience to where they can take full
advantage of who they are. And for me, there’s no greater, there’s no job that has any
greater value than that. And so for me, I do it
for selfish reasons. I do it because I love it and I do it because I think it matters. – Question?
– Here. Dr. Kincaid, you mentioned that some of the best teachers
that you’ve come across that have taught you made you cry. Was that in a good way–
– No. – [Male Student] Or was that in a bad way and could you, ’cause–
– I had a teacher one time, I had a teacher when I
was in graduate school one time he did this, he said, ladies and gentlemen I am about to introduce you to the best student I have ever had, this
blackboard right here. He would start out his classes like this. He would walk around and it
was a course on Wittgenstein. And he would start his classes like this. He would always start, he
was educated at Oxford. And so he did it in the
old Oxford tradition and he would walk around and he would go, “Mr. Kincaid, please explain
to the class Bertrand Russell. “Please explain to the class.” (sneezes)
(students laugh) I’m allergic to him ’cause I’m like… (students laugh) “Mr. Kincaid, please explain to the class “Bertrand Russell’s conception of number.” And I’d be like, (hums nervously) I think it has something to do with sets? And he would be like, “Correct!” And I’d be like. (breathes nervously) (students laugh) Continue, and I’d be like (squeals) no! My God that is the stupidest
thing I’ve ever heard. Who wants to try next? And of course the whole class goes like this.
(students laugh) I tell you what, I learned
Wittgenstein in that class. What do you wanna know,
I mean I learned a lot. I was terrified of the guy. Some guys, we’d get out of class and we’d go drink a beer. So it was really weird, it was, I never knew but there was
something about the people. I mean you, how do I say it in a nice way? You’ve had teachers that cared. And you’ve had teachers that didn’t. And I hate to get all Kantian on you all but you’ve had teachers that treated you as a means to an end and you’ve also had teachers that treated you
as an end in yourself. And you’ve known the difference. And when a teacher makes me cry, I had one professor, another
one in graduate school. This was great, another Oxford guy. I wrote a paper and I’d always been told that I was a good writer. And I wrote the paper and
he made it 3/4 of the way down the first page and he drew a line and he wrote I can read no further. (students laugh) Wow!
(students laugh) I guaranteed when that paper got done, he said you must write in
must simpler sentences. So I wrote the paper, I
was such a smart aleck. I wrote Husserl was a phenomenologist. Phenomenology is, and I wrote it like I was writing it for a two year old. And I get it back and he goes, “Much better.”
(students laugh) My writing improved 100% that semester. It’s not about being
nice, I mean I haven’t been real nice here,
I’ve basically told you that you’d better rethink your decision. But it’s about being treated honestly, it’s about being treated fairly, and it’s about being treated as a person and not just a means to a paycheck. Excellent question. – I’m scared.
(students laugh) – You should be!
– I’m scared, I am. – It’s a terrifying job, but look. It’s a terrifying job that you will never, that’s back to my point. I’ve worked 62 different job titles. I’ve been everything from
a dishwasher to a chef. I’ve seen a lot and I have never had a job that provides me with the
sense of satisfaction, with and especially here in
Queens, at Queensborough. I’ve taught at eight different colleges. I would never trade
this job for any other, for any job I’ve had in the world. It’s a very special place. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to share your life experiences and to push yourself
to be the best teacher that you can be because you know, whether you’re gonna see it or not, you know that it’s gonna matter. And it might, my goals are real low. I have 125 students a semester,
100 students a semester. One, if I can hit one I’m happy. And if that one can hit one or two later on down the road and that one or two hits one or two later on down the road. Maybe in four million years. (laughs) (students laugh) The world’ll start to look
like I hope it’ll look like. Be scared, but don’t be intimidated. – [Male Student] I don’t
know if I’m the only one, but I surprisingly I
don’t feel intimidated. I feel motivated by it.
– Good! Then that’s what you need to do. Be motivated by it, stand
up to the challenge. Because it’s, I don’t
wanna make it sound hokey, but when I talk about
being a professional, you can think of it in terms of being a professional
baseball player, okay? What’ve you gotta be? You’ve gotta have the
talent and the skill, okay. But you’ve gotta cultivate
that talent and skill and that’s scary, right?
– Yeah. – And then you’ve gotta have the nerve and the guts to go through the process of showing people that you not only have the talent and the
skill but you’ve got the nerve to put up with it and to do it. And to improve your teaching
at each and every turn. Because that’s the difference between you being a good teacher and
you being a great teacher. Not even talking about
being a bad teacher. ‘Cause anybody can do that. My TV can be a bad teacher. I try not to let it be,
sometimes it’s so easy to just throw in that, watch this son. (students laugh) Any other questions? Thank you very much for the opportunity. – Thank you!
(students applaud) – My name is Samantha
Io and I’m the president of Kappa Delta Pi and Alpha Sigma Gamma and we would like to
thank Professor Kincaid for his talk and lecture on
good versus great teaching. I know I have definitely
learned something from today. But hopefully we all stick with it and we don’t change our
minds and we do become great teachers for all of
our students in the future. I would also like to thank our cosponsors, The Future Teachers Society and The Campus Learning Center Club for cosponsoring this
event and I would also like to thank Jennifer Severin
for making this possible. Thank you very much for everything. (students applauding)

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