Learning About Teaching
I started teaching at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design in 1965 and by the time Doug Allen came to Harvard as a graduate student, I was already a Professor. Despite the academic title I was still very much in the learning phase about the craft of teaching, in large part because I liked trying new things with my students. I was fortunate in having been able to buy a house in Cambridge, and that it was a 14 minute walk to the GSD. I walked.
When Doug arrived at Harvard he was required to take my theories and methods course and also the collaborative studio which I taught. Despite his slow southern accent, it was obvious that he was far brighter than the average student. One day early in the semester I noticed that he was taking the same walk home as I was. I found out that he lived just around the corner from me, and we arranged to walk together whenever it was mutually convenient. This started a two-year arrangement in which we walked together at least four or five times a week.
“Despite his slow southern accent, it was obvious that he was far brighter than the average student.”
We got into the habit of having a discussion about teaching. Our normal pattern was that I would tell Doug in a totally frank manner what I was trying to accomplish that week or that day and whether or not I thought that it went well. Doug would respond by telling me how he perceived what was going on in my classes, both from his personal perspective and how he saw the perceptions of his classmates. We did this for mutual benefit. In retrospect, it was extremely important to me to get frank feedback through the eyes of a perceptive and intelligent student who was really behaving as a colleague. I sensed (I knew) that Doug was likely to teach and I think that the discussions were of great value to him as well because he understood the experimental nature of the student-teacher relationship, both on the part of the students and the teacher. Doug and I became good friends and whenever we met in subsequent years we would reminisce about our walks. I really believe that one of the most lasting parts of Doug’s graduate education at Harvard where those two-way conversations…..about learning to teach.
Wiley Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning, Emeritus
Harvard Graduate School of Design
Also published on Medium.