The University of Chicago Magazine
|STYLE AND SUBSTANCE|
By example, Margaret ("Peggy") Rosenheim, the Helen Ross professor emerita of social welfare policy in the School of Social Service Administration, has taught students and colleagues to think broadly about the role of teaching and research in the larger campus community. The former SSA dean has taught in the Law School and the College, pressing students to use theory and history to tackle the day's controversial subjects.
The most electric and influential instructor I had in the Law School was Edward Levi. But also Walter Blum, Harry Kalven, and Bernard Meltzer. From them I learned that good teaching comes from people who are very smart. I also learned that there's no substitute for very careful preparation. I always reread the material and usually do some collateral reading before each class section.
My main goal is to get the students to identify and respond to questions generated by the readings. I see myself as filling in information that isn't in the readings. I assume the students will come to class well-prepared and ready to think collectively about the kinds of issues the readings generate. The problem is to keep up with them!
It's very desirable for teachers to recognize that teaching significantly is a matter of love-the love you have of your own material and the love you feel about imparting its importance. When I started out, I don't think I would have used that language--and that's where some of the challenge is. It's a competitive marketplace. You're competing for the students' attention for ideas that you feel strongly about. The overwhelming impulse is to convince students of the wonder and importance of the materials I'm trying to convey and the ideas I care about. And all this sounds a lot more confident than I feel.
After 46 years at the University, Sidney Schulman retired in 1993 as the Ellen C. Manning professor emeritus in the Biological Sciences Division. Generations of medical students remember him as an exemplar of concerned patient care. In the mid-1970s, while continuing his neurological research, he began to teach in the College, developing a course that linked medicine and philosophy.
If you're going to lecture, be damn well prepared. Try to remember how long it took you to understand something fully before you get impatient with someone who's learning it for the first time. So don't get angry--or at least don't show it...
Hermann Schlesinger in the chemistry department was a short, pear-shaped man who chain-smoked and delivered lectures that were beautifully composed, with no recourse to any notes whatsoever. He was the best lecturer I have ever heard or experienced....
I studied a certain part of the nervous system microscopically and in great detail. My students expressed an interest in this, and informally there developed a regular get-together where we would look at microscopic sections of this portion of the thalamus taken from cats, gorillas, monkeys, and people. The purpose was nothing but the fun of it and thinking about how the nervous system works.
The older model of meeting to discuss cases three times a week with medical students, interns, and residents has gradually eroded. Technology has changed this, and also society's needs--people can't afford to stay in the hospital as long as they used to. But that approach gave wonderful exposure to the patient of people who were learning and people who knew. One might say the needs for personal skills of observation are not as great as they were. Now you've got an MRI scan. You don't have to make any big inferences from little clues. You don't have to take as detailed a history anymore.
The Arthur H. Compton distinguished service professor emeritus in the Enrico Fermi Institute, the physics department, and the College, John Simpson came to the University in 1943. His many honors--membership in the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society; the 1974 NASA medal for exceptional achievement; and two Guggenheim fellowships--include a 1980 Quantrell award. Simpson has sponsored the doctoral work of 34 students, among them many of today's leaders in space research.
My theme is, Get out of the classroom and into the world of discovery and exploration of new frontiers--and the earlier the better. That's my advice to students.
When I was about 12 years old, my family moved into a new house. There was a garage and we didn't have a car, so I built a workshop and lab in there. I built things and did experiments, and later I learned that what I was doing was physics.
At Chicago I found that not many of the students had enough space to have a lab at home or in their apartment--space is cramped--so that's why we have a lab set aside in the physics department just for student participation. They can do what they want....
Enrico [Fermi] would come into the classroom and informally pour out the physics on the blackboard in a very easygoing way. One day I remember going in to see him about a problem we were working on, and he was at the board [writing equations]. He was rehearsing what he was doing and how he was doing it to make it very smooth and clear. Everybody thought he did it off the top of his head but, no way, he prepared!
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