by Gina Merys, Associate Director, Reinert Center
Last Fall, I had the pleasure of reading After Pedagogy: The Experience of Teaching, by Saint Louis University’s own Paul Lynch, Ph.D. (Associate Professor in the Department of English), and to discuss it on a panel created in its honor. What follows here is an adaptation of my remarks.
What a thrill to read Lynch’s book and (re)visit the challenges faced by discussing/enacting composition pedagogy. As a former faculty member in an English department and director of a composition program myself, the questions Lynch raises in his book are essential to the ways in which I continue to think about pedagogy, especially as my work in the Reinert Center now calls me to grapple with and discuss the intricacies of pedagogy writ large.
When doing the pedagogical work of a teaching center, pedagogy is the ocean in which we swim, and the teachers with whom we work are tethered to a variety of coastlines of their own disciplinary viewpoints of the “whats” and “hows” of teaching in their fields. In many ways, the work of individuals in the teaching center is a fine balance of context work (situating teaching within very particular contextual situations), and theory-driven methodology (applying what we know about learning to a variety of situations). It is intricate work to be sure, and requires much of the same delicate navigation that Lynch outlines in his book.
Thus, when thinking about a larger agenda of acting in and through pedagogy, we rely on the idea, as Lynch puts it, that “pedagogy is not what we do when we enter the classroom or even while we are there. It is what we do after we leave” (xviii). We in the teaching center are “pursuers” of pedagogy, in that “we engage that which is occasioned by our students’ work,” as well as that of our colleagues’ students’ work (xviii). Though we all come to the teaching center as teachers, our primary work is to support others in their own endeavors toward teaching. Perhaps because we are called to consider pedagogy as something that stands next to the principles of any particular discipline (while at the same time acknowledging how intertwined they are), it becomes an imperative to create moments for reflection about what happened previously that can be an occasion for discernment in future teaching situations.
Often, what is sought from the services of the teaching center, through individual consultations, workshops, and other services and events, is a magic solution. Something that is clean and easy to apply directly into whatever course we happen to be teaching at the time. Of course, I consistently disappoint, because there is no such thing as a magic solution. Learning is a messy endeavor fraught with the perils of being reliant on individual learners in a multitude of contexts. In short, teaching is messy because learning is messy.
Thus, I have a particular appreciation of Lynch’s creation of an “after-pedagogy”, “a way to make a resource of our classroom experience” because when we bring to bear the lessons that arrive through the classroom, lab, clinic, and field, an “after-pedagogy” is a most-reliable place to begin (7). When I talk to people about their teaching the most frequent request I make is to, “tell me about your class and your students.” Daily, the Reinert Center staff has the opportunity to walk with teachers in a multi-varied experience of classroom ecologies that include not only students, but also patients, clients, and community partners as both teachers and learners as well. While we can rely on some concrete information we have about how the brain works and how learning often happens, it is not enough to take into account all of the variables that happen in a classroom—a living ecology of teaching and learning. Therefore, anything more static or prescriptive than an “after-pedagogy” as Lynch creates it, becomes disingenuous. I’m grateful to Lynch for creating a theory that describes the honesty and reality of discussing authentic learning that takes place in realistic settings.
Lynch, Paul. After Pedagogy: The Experience of Teaching. CCCC Studies in Writing and Rhetoric Series. Conference of College Composition and Communication of the National Council of Teachers of English, 2013.