Most teachers love teaching metaphors—the teacher as guide, as coach, as gardener, as maestro in front of the orchestra. At some point in our careers most of us have been asked to pick or create a metaphor that captures how we view the teacher's role. Doing that in faculty development workshops isn't as popular as it once was, and many of the most common metaphors are too familiar to be very exciting. A new metaphor might enable us to reexperience how a comparison to something unexpected can change the picture of what we do and why and how we do it.
Tana Schiewer offers that new metaphor: the teacher as host. Her short essay points to others in her field of English who have been writing about classroom hospitality. Here's why she thinks it's an apt metaphor. “We are the hosts—the ones who set the ground rules and overall tenor of the classroom.” (p. 545) She explains the metaphor by asking us to think about how we host guests in our homes. We make them feel comfortable, we may ask about dietary restrictions or preferences before cooking for them, we may point the way to the bathroom, and if our home is a no-smoking one, we might ask guests not to smoke or to do so outside. If serving drinks, a good host keeps an eye out for anyone who's overindulging and recommends either more time on the couch or a ride home.
Schiewer suggests three ways teachers can “host” students in the classroom. First, teachers ought to provide students with simple instruction. “Instructors should not expect students to muddle through their courses without some simple instruction.” College classroom homes are not familiar to students, especially those beginning college. What is obvious to the teacher (just as the host doesn't wonder about the location of the bathroom) may not be so to students who can waste a great deal of time trying to figure out something that they could just as simply be told. “We absolutely can expect students to do hard work and learn the difficult tasks we set before them in the classroom; however, providing a simple road map is certainly a reasonable expectation (and the more hospitable option).” (p. 546)
Second, a good host in the classroom will work to create community and work to do so without abrogating legitimate authority. No one questions whether the homeowner has the right to set up the rules of the house. Students are keenly aware of the teacher's power and authority. Most understand that when they come to our classrooms, they are essentially coming to our house. Even so, those who gather with us in the classroom or online can still become a group with many shared interests and common goals.
Finally, “effective teaching (and learning) requires a teaching presence and ethos that bring the curriculum to life.” (p. 547) Her point here is about how the host and the guests relate. A good host is still in charge; it is after all his or her home, but the atmosphere is relaxed, warm, and inviting. A good host wants people to enjoy themselves and wants the experience to be a positive one, so there is open communication, humor, warmth, and friendliness in the home and the classroom.
“I recognize that to some, the approach I am espousing may seem at best daunting and at worst dangerous; treating students as guests and treating the classroom as a cozy living room may simply seem too quaint.” (p. 547) But the behaviors of a good host do engage students. They get them coming to class, participating, and learning. The metaphor offers a different way of thinking about students. “We can choose to recognize them as what we are ultimately trying to help them become, participants in the creation of new knowledge and active, contributing members of society.”
Reference: Schiewer, T. (2013). Teacher-student relationships: A model of hospitality. Pedagogy, 13 (3), 544-548.