In teaching, the focus is very often on the answers, but I see it differently — I believe the questions are the most important part.

Obed Lira

"I see my style of teaching as presenting two conflicting viewpoints and facilitating the students' discussion of each, almost echoing what could be a conversation at large," says says Professor Obed Lira, Spanish, who teaches courses in Latin American literature and culture as well as advanced seminars in colonial Latin American literature. "When teaching, I'm not just lecturing and passing out knowledge — I'm facilitating access to it, and the students have to dig deep and think critically."

Lira believes this inquisitive approach is a crucial component of guiding students through a literature course, which requires them to look beyond the surface of what's merely written on the page. It's also a teaching style very much influenced by the Socratic method, which encourages argumentative dialogue — asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and draw out ideas and underlying presumptions.

"I love questions — when people learn how to ask better ones or when students think it's a dumb one but realize it's one of the best in class, and everyone else was afraid to ask it," Lira says. "The focus on the question is my way in to facilitate."

Lira knows that encouraging discussion and debate must be handled delicately, but he's also had some of his best experiences as an instructor with classes that led to difficult conversations.

"I was teaching a seminar on immigration issues to a class with a lot of bilingual students, and on the last day a discussion became very heated," he says. "At the time, I left class feeling disappointed that the last day had ended with such a divide between students. In retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened for the course because of the element of discussion and the evolution of the understanding of issues."

Lira also believes strongly in interacting with students outside of a classroom setting, which leads to a better understanding of their priorities for learning and what they hope to get out of his class.

"At the beginning of Don Quixote, the author writes a comedic diagnosis of Quixote's madness as someone whose brain dried up because of too much reading and not enough sleep," he says. "A student I worked with took the problem seriously and was trying to understand Cervantes' diagnosis of his own literary character by looking into the medical and philosophical treatises of the period in which the novel was written. I later learned she has a family history of psychiatric issues. So for her, there was a lot more at stake than just understanding a character on a literary level."

Posted Oct. 6, 2017