We’re at that time of the academic year when the daily details begin to pile up. Teach a class, grade assignments, schedule advisees, and prep for tomorrow. It may not feel like a grind just yet, but it does require lots of focused energy, which makes this a perfect time for a quick reflection on why we teach. For some, teaching is just a job; it’s a paycheck necessity. But for readers of a blog on teaching and learning, I’m pretty sure we’re in it for something more than the bucks, which tend to be pretty modest anyway.
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
Philosophy of Teaching
I started composting at our summer place in 2009, and now I’m a convert. In the summer, we live on an island that’s mostly rock covered with something the locals call “organic matter.” Growing anything this far north on this soil base is challenging, but compost has made a big difference. My bleeding hearts, campanulas, delphinium, phlox, and coral bells are far more impressive than they used to be.
Our teaching persona is expressed in how we go about shaping the learning environment. A purposeful integration of our teaching persona helps link students with content in subtle ways. This matters because we’re after an expression of teaching persona that plays a constructive role in creating a learning environment where learners thrive and teachers flourish.
Evidence-based teaching seems like the new buzzword in higher education. The phrase appears to mean that we’ve identified and should be using those instructional practices shown empirically to enhance learning. Sounds pretty straightforward, but there are lots of questions that haven’t yet been addressed, such as: How much evidence does there need to be to justify a particular strategy, action, or approach? Is one study enough? What about when the evidence is mixed—in some studies the results of a practice are positive and in others they aren’t? In research conducted in classrooms, instructional strategies aren’t used in isolation; they are done in combination with other things. Does that grouping influence how individual strategies function?
Those who write about teaching persona (the slice of our identities that constitutes the “public teaching self”) encourage us to start by reflecting on the messages we want to send to students. A dialogue with ourselves is a useful beginning, but for the last days of a semester another option might be more intriguing and revealing.
I looked down into the menacing waters as a rogue wave jolted the raft. Trembling, I stepped back, my chattering teeth and throbbing heart in perfect sync.
“Let’s go!” It was Miss T, her tone, fierce and impatient.
Again, I crept forward, looking out toward the distant boat wondering how in the world I would ever make the 30-yard swim. Suddenly: hands on my shoulders—a push. I was airborne.
Who are you when you teach? When asked this question, most of us immediately respond by describing our teaching approaches. We might say “I’m more of a facilitator now.” Or we might respond with something like “I am a learner-centered teacher” or “I’m more of a lab teacher than lecturer.” But consider this question in another way: What “teaching presence” or persona underlies what you do as a teacher?
There is a discourse of deficiency around students—what they can’t do, how “ill prepared” they are—that gets aired at nearly every faculty meeting. We read it in op-eds online. We hear it in state legislatures and in copier rooms. It is the air we breathe, especially if we teach in community colleges. Certain populations of students are considered more deficient than others. These populations are partitioned by institution type and placement level, rather than by race or class. Community college students and students who have landed in developmental classes are considered the most deficient of all. We blame the high schools they came from and, sometimes implicitly, we blame them. They are lazy. They need handholding. They simply don’t have the skills. There is only so much we can do with them.