To teach is to listen

In 13 different spaces within the City of Melbourne, 1500 retirees regularly congregate for classes as part of the University of the Third Age (U3A).

Charles Klassen teaches a short course on the Literature of Power, Law and Justice that begins with the Epic of Gilgamesh, moves through Greek and Egyptian justice, the Middle Ages, and David Williamson to Aboriginal justice today.

And all in just six weeks.

“A lot of people have a lot of experience with justice,” Charles – whose career was spent as a high school English teacher – said as he pointed out that the art of teaching mature age students was listening.

“What impresses me is that the teachers are open – it’s totally different to teaching young students because they don’t have much background,” he said.

“When you’re teaching mature students, sometimes they have expertise and knowledge that you don’t have.”

“It’s not just lecturing; it’s listening to them.”

That’s why Charles starts his class with an informal discussion, initiated but not dominated by his Canadian accent. His class discusses experiences with the tax office and the power of bureaucracy. 

His U3A experience began as a student, too, when he moved to Melbourne two years ago from Sydney.

In 1969 he met an Australian nurse at home in Canada. Three years later they’d moved to Sydney and they stayed there until 2017.

“We moved to Melbourne to be with our children and grandchildren. We have four sons, two of them are in Melbourne with five grandchildren here.”

One of his sons is in Brunswick, the other in North Melbourne, so he said he and his wife got an apartment in the CBD to be as close as possible to both at the same time.

His wife is involved with U3A’s film, museums and historical walks courses. 

For Charles, adult life has been all about teaching. He retired as a high school teacher 15 years ago and moved into teaching the card game bridge full time. 

He said of all U3A events he’s been involved with his favourite was a reading of the World War One poets – like Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke – at Deakin’s Edge.

“It was read by a number of different men who got up and were really well choregraphed and developed. It was really moving.”

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