HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
I am not a skilled athlete, but I have watched enough sporting events to know that the fundamentals are essential to both player and team success. Coaches can often be heard repeating such maxims as “keep your eye on the ball,” “follow through,” and “hold your position.”
It all started 56 years ago with a brown paper sack. This no-frills carrier contained a stash of glue, crayons, scissors, and strips of construction paper. These were my teaching tools. According to my mother, I carried this sack with me everywhere. Naturally drawn to showing and explaining things, I later graduated to using a small chalkboard. When our cat had kittens, they became my pupils, though admittedly they were less attentive than my stuffed animals.
It was just a passing comment in a student’s email reply to me concerning some questions I had raised on her most recent paper. She answered my inquiries and then basically thanked me for “grading with such grace.” This is not a word that I have ever associated with my grading. Tough–yes; thorough–you bet, but grace? Doesn’t that imply my being too easy? Had I given more credit than the student deserved?
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.
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.
It’s 9 a.m. on a Wednesday morning around mid-term. “Carrie James” (a fictional name) grabs her textbook and class roster and heads upstairs to her first class of the day. It starts at 9 o’clock. She makes a pit stop before arriving at the classroom. When Carrie enters the room, most students immediately stop talking. She quickly calls roll and says, “Let’s get started. We have a lot to cover today.” Carrie begins the lecture by displaying a list of key terms on the document camera. She lectures for most of the period, closely following the text outline and then announces a test to the moans and groans of students. As soon as class ends, Carrie returns to her office, shuts the door, and turns her attention to the manuscript that she was editing for publication. She has an hour before her next class which she puts completely out of her mind.
Thinking and writing metaphorically is often a recommended way to clarify one’s approach to teaching. Having a particular mental image provides a reference point, or compass, to guide teaching decisions and actions. There are many interesting and colorful characters in Greek mythology that might serve as possible metaphorical models for teaching faculty.
As the fall semester approaches, it’s time to restock my classroom teaching supplies. It occurred to me that other faculty might find useful these inexpensive tools that I regularly use in the classroom, so I’m sharing my shopping list with you here. The items on my list serve the purposes of creating a sense of community and promoting student engagement.
When I started teaching 27 years ago, like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz I believed that just having a brain would make me successful. And so each class session I would literally “take the stage” on a raised platform to deliver what was in my head and on my papers. Even though there were 60 students in the class, there could just as well have been none because I basically ignored the students. They were objects, sponges whose task was to absorb course content.