Kyle Anderson and Ken Keffer become students in each other’s classes
Centre students taking Introduction to Mandarin or French World Literature this past fall found themselves studying with people they might not normally consider students: their professors.
Arthur Vining Davis Post-Doctoral Teaching Fellow Kyle Anderson and Stodghill Professor of French and German Ken Keffer became students in each other’s language courses this fall semester. For Anderson, auditing college classes has become routine.
“I got in the habit of auditing classes as an undergrad almost every semester and continued in grad school. I knew I would audit a class here,” Anderson says. “It’s just a good opportunity to learn.”
Anderson chose to audit Keffer’s class for a specific reason.
“Ken reminded me of the kind of teachers that inspired me to be a teacher — a natural-born teacher who engages very well with his students, delivers material in an engaging way and is passionate about what he does,” Anderson says. “I wanted to see how he did things in the hopes that it would get me excited and help me learn how to better instruct.”
After Anderson audited his German class in the spring of 2011, Keffer became interested in becoming Anderson’s student.
“I was struck by Kyle’s interest in German. Thereafter, I was determined to audit introductory Mandarin, and Kyle expressed interest in auditing my fall French World Lit class,” Keffer says. “The ball was rolling. We were running around in the big house of language! We haven’t stopped.”
Being in an upper-level French class made Anderson evaluate how to replicate a conversation-based course for students of Mandarin.
“The acquisition of Chinese is much slower than French. You can never, as an undergrad, replicate the scenario in the French class to a Chinese class — but that class made me rethink how to make such a thing possible,” Anderson says. “The environment was so great, with such a give and take between student and professor, it made me reevaluate continuously how such a thing can be simulated in a Chinese classroom.”
Anderson found Keffer to be a great addition to his Mandarin class.
“My students and I loved having him in class. We do a lot of improvisational presentations, and we all loved Ken doing that, because he’d always make it funny and embrace the chaos of the classroom,” Anderson says.
Both professors discovered that taking on the role of student was beneficial in more ways than one.
“I have gained enormously by auditing the Mandarin, with its hilariously intricate and sublime traditional script. But the students in the class probably taught me as much, if not more, than the sublime Chinese language,” says Keffer. “What I learned from the students is that their agility of mind and body is extraordinary, incomparable.”
“I learned a lot being in there besides the content of the class. Just seeing how [Keffer] and the students interacted in the upper-level senior seminar was really interesting,” Anderson agrees. “I was amazed at how fluent the students were. I don’t know what they thought of having me in there, but I was really impressed with the deep sorts of thinking and the complex things they were expressing in French.”
Keffer wasn’t surprised by how much he learned from the Centre students in Anderson’s class.
“I argued a couple of years ago that the young people we teach at Centre were far stronger intellectually than we [professors] are, and that we teachers actually work not from a position of strength, but from a position of weakness that goes by the name of ‘wisdom.’ Raymond Queneau, the French writer I did my dissertation on, called this phenomenon ‘neosthenia’ — the strength of youth,” Keffer says. “I don’t think I even believed myself; I thought that arguing weakness was actually a form of empowerment. Well, it turns out I was right.”
Anderson and Keffer will go from being each other’s students to being co-professors of a linguistics course next fall, and believe their experience taking each other’s classes will benefit them.
“For us to teach a linguistics class together is a marriage made in heaven. We’ve ventured into each other’s territories, so it will be a big advantage for the students. They’ll get a combination of points of views on world languages,” Anderson says. “Plus, with his style of teaching and his method of provocation, the students will be continuously engaged.”
“Kyle and I will mix it up in the fall 2012 linguistics course. Why, we’ll call it intro to LINGUISTIKS in honor of its riskiness and scope,” Keffer adds.
For both Anderson and Keffer, the act of becoming a student taught them almost as much as they taught each other.
“It was humbling in the best sort of way,” Keffer says. “It’s like a form of pedagogical dying — dying to the belief that we teachers ‘know better.’”