Jeffrey R. Young
Elaine Smokewood says losing the ability to speak has made her a better teacher.
About two years ago, the 54-year-old English professor at Oklahoma City University was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and the incurable malady has taken so much from her. It has stolen control of many muscles in her face, along with her ability to live independently. But ALS has also taught her how to teach more effectively, she argues, in ways that were a complete surprise.
The trick: Use technology to get out of your students' way and listen, really listen, to what they have to say.
Most professors believe they listen to their students, of course, and that they hold vibrant discussions in class. Ms. Smokewood definitely believed that, viewing herself as an "interactive" teacher.
"Highly interactive," she told me when I visited her home office here. "And in some ways I was. But I still saw myself as the most important person in the room." That's pretty common on campuses across the country, and some would argue it's the appropriate role for a teacher.
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