reflections on teaching
Here’s a great resource: the Teaching Practices Inventory. It’s an inventory that lists and scores the extent to which research-based teaching practices are being used. It’s been developed for use in math and science courses, but researchers Carl Wieman and Sarah Gilbert suggest it can be used in engineering and social sciences courses, although they have not tested it there. I suspect it has an even wider application. Most of the items on the inventory are or could be practiced in most disciplines and programs.
My office is on the first floor of the education building. I have spent 27 years in this building. Unless I have a meeting in another department, I rarely go upstairs. Recently, however, I started a daily routine of climbing the four sets of staircases in the building. Trying to slow the progression of osteoporosis in my right hip, I go up one set and down another three times as I make my way around the building. This physical activity has given me a chance to engage in some mental reflection. Here I will briefly share five observations on a career spent teaching in higher education with an eye toward encouraging newer faculty to achieve longevity in the profession.
I am on my way to speak at another professional development day at a college. I do these events with misgivings—frequently persuading myself on the way home that I really shouldn’t be doing them.
Some time ago, a colleague and I reviewed the literature on interventions to improve instruction. If I were to do that paper again, I would pay special attention to those changes that improved student learning. The research we looked at then did not give workshops very high marks. If teachers changed, they did so right after the event, but soon reverted to their old ways of doing things
We’ve all been in the classroom when our lessons flop, our students get restless, and we feel like captains of a sinking ship. I claim that all teachers have bad days, but the best teachers are the ones who can learn from their mistakes. In this piece, I will reflect on a bad teaching day and what I learned from it. I will encourage you to take a reflective approach to your own teaching for your students’ benefit and for your professional development.
I love it when something in the blog leads us to new ideas and insights. Neil Haave, who teaches on the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta, submitted an article on learning philosophies. (You can find the article in the April issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter) His thinking about learning philosophies was stimulated by his experience evaluating e-portfolios, which were being piloted on his campus, and by a couple of posts on this blog (November 13, 2013 and January 22, 2014). He was struck by how few insights the seniors preparing these portfolios had about themselves as learners and came to the conclusion that they should start writing about how they learn long before the end of their academic careers.
The longer I teach, the more I see teaching as a highly creative endeavor. Initially, a more mechanical view prevailed for me. In my earlier years as a teacher, I undertook a more formula-like approach by following a behaviorist stance of stimulus-response. If I do X, then my students would do Y, I reasoned. Of course, teaching is never that simple. There are so many intervening factors. And, there is limitless room for alternate ways to address teaching challenges.
I would like to be able say of my teaching: this is clearly good; this is clearly not good. I would like to be able to think: I always do things right. I would like to be certain.
I’ve been delving a bit into the emotional aspects of teaching. They continue to be largely ignored in the research literature and in our discussions of teaching. Could that be because emotional things fit uncomfortably in the objective, rational, intellect-driven culture of the academy? We teach in an environment where content continues to dominate the thinking of so many faculty that there’s little room left for consideration of the emotional. Nonetheless, I remain convinced that you cannot power a teaching career on the intellect alone. Emotions are an ever-present part of teaching.
This weekend I saw a diagram with visual representations of teacher-centered instruction juxtaposed to graphics illustrating learner-centered approaches. I heard myself telling someone that I used to think of them as separate, and I still see value in understanding the differences between them. But thinking about them dichotomously is not how I think about them now—thanks to a re-read of some of Parker Palmer’s work and a great article written for the newsletter by colleagues Ricky Cox and Dave Yearwood (January, 2013).
What does professional development look like? A couple of the more traditional examples might include reading a book, sitting in a room full of educators discussing a particular topic, or traveling to a conference. Certainly, those are all ways we can learn to improve our craft.