One of the greatest teachers I ever had was a gentleman named Maury Williams. Maury was a history professor at the community college I attended after high school. I still remember the course title: EUROPE: 1485-1789. Those dates are burned in my memory; 1485 being the start of the Tudor dynasty in England and 1789, of course, being the French Revolution.
Maury’s teaching method was simple. He walked around the classroom, slowly, as if in deep thought (which he was), and told us about history. Told us the story of kings and emperors, wars and peace, prosperity and famine, all drawn from his memory. He never referred to notes. During the entire hour he would never once stop walking or talking. He spoke in a quiet, steady voice, rarely expressing emotion. As he spoke we (the students) furiously scribbled down every word he said. Our lecture notes would become the basis of our studying for Maury’s essay exams, exams which were demanding and exhausting.
Maury was an incredible teacher. From him I learned that history is a story, a living, breathing narrative of profound importance. Studying for his tests helped me develop skills in organization and reflection; taking notes during his lectures enhanced my focus and concentration. Yet his course was no mere exercise in “study skills” or academic rigor. The entire time we were taking notes and studying for tests we had an overwhelming awareness that what we were doing had incredible value.
What intrigues me about Maury is that although he was one of the greatest teachers I have ever had, his teaching methods would be frowned upon in virtually any Faculty of Education in Canada. His approach would be criticized as too “teacher-directed” and his total reliance on the lecture would be dismissed as inappropriate for fostering student engagement. I can just see my old education professors looking at Maury’s class with horror. Where are the co-operative learning groups? Where are the student-led seminars? Where is the variety of teaching strategies? Et cetera.
Maury was one of my great influences, and all he did was talk about history as he walked thoughtfully around the room. Yet no one could do it like he did. Through his example I have seen that great teaching transcends methodology or ideology.