reflections on teaching
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.
I’ve been thinking lately about the relationship between what we teach and how we teach. Part of that relationship is pretty obvious: If you teach something with problems to solve, you spend time problem-solving when you teach. If you teach a skill (like writing or dancing), you spend time providing examples (of good sentences or dance steps). But what I’ve been trying to sort out is something on a different level—the interaction between content, character, and teaching style.
Have you ever become so frustrated with students and overwhelmed by your workload that you start questioning what you are doing? At times it can feel suffocating. Baruti Kafele, an educator and motivational speaker offers a perspective of being mission oriented to educators and others working with young people in our nation’s classrooms. He suggests affirming your goals and motivations to facilitate successes among students. However, in the college classroom, it is also essential that we, as faculty members, remember and affirm our purpose, acknowledge the contributions we make in students’ lives and professional pursuits, and respect the call or passion that brought each of us to the teaching profession.
Every now and again I come across a quote that follows me around for the rest of the day, if not several days. That happened this week and here’s the quote, “I see myself as a learner first, thus I create my classes with learners, not for them ….”