reflections on teaching
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.
It is 6:00 a.m., Tuesday, August 28. My first day of class is this Thursday. It’s the end of summer, and once again, I am nervous about teaching. I just woke up from a bad dream. I was standing in front of a new class, totally unprepared. I think I had my clothes on, but there was nothing—I mean nothing—in my head.
Part memoir and part advice for others, Journey of Joy: Teaching Tips for Reflection, Rejuvenation and Renewal will encourage and inspire faculty who may have fallen out of love with teaching. It’s loaded with strategies to keep your teaching fresh and invigorated.