Freedom to Learn Section III: For the Teacher (part four) – Developing person-centred teachers
This chapter presents a case study of a teacher-education programme at St. Lawrence University in New York. Rogers begins by outlining the dire state of an education system - including teacher-education courses - which is boring and a waste of time. St. Lawrence, however, is a person-centred institution which helps teachers become human beings in the teaching situation.
The case study covers the roots, setting and programme, as well as problems encountered and an evaluation solution. It also offers students' own responses to the programme, which report significant learning, growth in self-esteem, insight, confidence, and as a person. The overall tenor can be illustrated by two paragraphs from a talk Rogers gave before he completed a visit to St. Lawrence, here talking of the course:
It seems to me to be a total, unified, coherent experiment in teacher training. It is aimed toward trusting students, toward respecting them as persons and as learners. It is operating not only at an intellectual level, but as a way of being which is experienced by all those in the program. I find the morale of faculty, students, and former students exceedingly good.
But is it working? If you could have been in a meeting which I attended which included many former graduates, there could be no doubt in your mind. Confidence in themselves as professional persons, the ability to facilitate learning, the capacity for living as human beings in relationship with their students was evident in almost every statement that was made. As one of them said, "It works!" I could not help but agree.
The focus of the chapter then returns to the inadequacies of the current educational system, as a St Lawrence graduate reports her experience of teaching in schools, which Rogers describes as both heartening and depressing. Essentially, the new teacher found that if she was herself in the classroom, her students enjoyed both her and their learning, but colleagues and administrators did not take kindly to this and ostracised and sidelined her. She began to doubt herself as a person-centred teacher until she fortunately found a programme where she could be herself again - and once more to great success.
Her initial thoughts during her experience was that the St. Lawrence's Student Teaching Program was just too idealistic; however, she modified this with the realisation that "there are a lot of people afraid to be themselves". Rogers comments on the revolutionary character of a person-centred approach, due to an educational system which feels threatened if learning is enjoyable and teachers don't feel the need to be superior to their students. The beginner teacher here did not openly challenge those baleful convictions - "she was simply a living contradiction of them".