During my first semester of teaching at Reed-21 years ago- I had an experience that was both unsettling and revealing.
I emerged from class one day, feeling particularly delighted at the lively and constructive discussion that had just taken place, when suddenly it occurred to me that I had hardly said a word. The course was classical political philosophy; the topic was censorship; the text, book three of Plato's Republic. Pretty standard stuff. But the students had attacked it beautifully, arguing both about the broader issue of freedom of expression and the narrower question of Plato's logic, and by the end of class had done a fine job of bringing the two points together.
I was the one who had started the discussion, and at a few points I had interjected a comment or qualification, but it had been basically their conversation. Standing in the hallway after class and thinking about what had just happened, I found myself suddenly plunged into something of a personal and professional crisis. If such a fruitful discussion could occur with rather minimal participation by me, perhaps it could occur without any participation by me. As a young assistant professor at the beginning of a career, I found myself forced to think long and hard about what "conference teaching" might mean.