Friday, May 25, 2007

Why do people become teachers?

This is not a question about academics such as myself. We're a different kettle of fish, as stuff happening outside the classroom, in particular scholarly and other writing, is so central to our career choice.

Rather, I'm ruminating here about K through 12 teachers, only slicing off the upper and lower ends. Those who work with very young children are also a distinctive group, while high school teachers remain as yet outside my experience as a parent.

For those who remain in the grouping, I have noticed three basic types. The first are the people who actually want to be teachers. Motivations may vary, but sometimes I discern a sense of "I'm going to be the sort of person I wish had been there for me, but wasn't." Obviously, this is the type one wants one's children to have. There are plenty of them, but they are unfortunately not as common as one would like - certainly below 50 percent, in my experience as a parent.

Those in Type 2 want a white-collar job, no hard physical labor, that sounds good when you tell people you're doing it. And they want something that doesn't take too much hard-core professional training, and that doesn't require specialized skills of a kind that are too easy to test for objectively. Their chief goal professionally is advancement with as little challenge and trouble as possible.

Type 3 wants inferiors, in size, age, and knowledge, from whom to demand admiration. This type is potentially even worse than Type 2.

Needless to say, Types 2 and 3 attempt to masquerade as Type 1. The best diagnostic I know is that Types 2 and 3 are generally humorless.


Anonymous said...

I was always of the opinion that you were a Type 2 or 3. I had you when I was in the LLM program, and I can honestly say, without a doubt, that you were the worst professor there. You had no connection with the students, nor did you attempt to establish one. For example, you never learned any of our names, never deigned to engage us (or to answer our questions intelligibly), and never gave us a sense you gave a damn who we were.

Lest you think this is sour grapes from some flunkie, I earned an A minus in your class (which pulled my GPA down). Of course, how would you know, since you had no idea who the hell I was?

You really should read this, even though I know you won't reply to it. Your teaching was criminally negligent. You should stick to blue-skying and pontificating about tax policy, and forget about trying to educate people (not that you care about the latter anyway).

Daniel Shaviro said...

You are entitled to your opinion. All teachers have some successes and some failures, which they should take to heart as partly their own. It's interactive - when there is a failure BOTH sides have failed, but in this case that means me as well as you.

For the record, I have had a lot of successes as well, and many students give me favorable reviews. There are a number I have remained in touch with after they graduated, not restricted to those who entered legal academics. And many of them would speak of my commitment to teaching them. My teaching ratings certainly do not reflect general adherence to your viewpoint, although surely you aren't the only one to feel that way.

I doubt you were interested in the things I wanted to get students excited about. And I suspect I sensed that from you, and perhaps others in the class. But yes, I accept that this was my failure too.

Technical complaint: I don't think anyone could say I'm humorless.

P. O'Brien said...


Your anonymous vituperation of Professor Shaviro is unfair and indicates cowardice on your part. You seem to be the "poor me" guy, who always complains instead of
courageously stepping forward to introduce yourself or to engage anyone.

Professor Shaviro is by all standards the Type 1 professor. He cares about his students and has always maintained an open-door policy, where students can stop by and discuss anything that concerns them. You could have chosen, had you been brave enough, to discuss your disappointment with the A minus. Had you done so, you would have discovered that he's a good person, fair, open-minded and has a great sense of humor.

Hiding your face while you hurl malicious attacks at his ability as an educator is unfair, since you, on the other hand, did not try to engage him. I am now deign to say it probably was "that kind of semester," or that you probably weren't ready for the LLM program.

Also, I wouldn't call his teaching criminally negligent, as that term is best placed in the laps of parents whose children graduate from law school and behave like you.

I suggest that you visit him sometime, soon, and 'fess up' to your comments. I guarantee that your conversation with him would be intellectual and humorous, and that you would leave feeling good that you got to know him.

dhaies said...

I had Professor Shaviro while I was an LL.M. as well, and I definitely do not share your sentiments. I took Dan for 2 courses: foreign tax and for the tax policy seminar. What I loved best about his courses was that he encouraged you to think. While he didn't concentrate on what the law was a paticular point in time, he did emphasize what the law should be. I found many of my my LL.M. courses to be rather boring because their focus was on black letter law, which is important but not lasting given that tax law is constantly changing. Also, as a practicing tax lawyer I think it's important to look at tax law and how it interacts with us socially, economically and politically, as this makes my work a lot more interesting and rewarding. I thank Professor Shaviro for helping me and giving me the insight to look beyond the mere letters of the code and regulations.