Saturday, November 7, 2009

Talking the Talk: Teaching the Teach... Oops

Interesting piece using Fight Club to talk about Teaching--Faculty Club.

Includes this handy tip for Adviser Management:
If your adviser tries to change the subject from a discussion of your dissertation, shove one of the books, preferably one that is so new that you are confident your adviser hasn't read it, into his hands: "Um, have you seen this yet?" No doubt his frantic attempt to scan the bibliography and see if his work is cited will sufficiently distract him.
No doubt.  I am not the only narcissist in the academy.

This take on teaching is also largely correct:
you must not expect to be given any actual guidance from your department on how to be a teacher. You will only be able to obtain those skills through your own efforts.
Teaching, like writing, takes a lot of practice.  When I first started out, I just wanted to be clear and organized.  I did not try to be interesting or engaging.  I didn't even try to be funny, as hard as that might be to believe.  My lecture notes from my first years of teaching were quite organized, developed, even occasionally researched.  And they have served me well since.  I think, in some ways, it was quite lucky that I was a visitor for two years at U of Vermont, teaching only a few courses, mostly intro to IR, to relatively small classes.  I learned how to teach, more or less, in a low risk environment, playing to my strengths. 

Then I went to Texas Tech and had to teach beyond my area of expertise to very large classes, but the foundation of my teaching style (or philosophy as the piece cited above puts it) was built mostly in Vermont.  The only real teaching lessons I learned at UCSD was to watch the same course (Intro to IR) taught by a fantastic teacher, by a strong teacher who was revising his course in light of the end of the cold war, and by a less than stellar teacher.  I could compare and contrast and borrow/steal what worked. 

Upon arriving at McGill, I quickly learned I had to increase my expectations, as the students were going to do the work and think about it.  So tests became less about enforcement and more about pushing them and me to think more about the material.  And, I loosened up somewhere between Vermont and now.  I was never super-uptight, but now I am very relaxed, I play music before class starts to charge my batteries, and I have to balance how much youtube and other such stuff I use.  Teaching 600 students, as I have been doing since 2005, has lead to a delicate balancing act--adding demonstrations and experiments to make things interesting but not too distracting--how much education and entertainment complement vs. overwhelm.

But do I have a teaching philosophy? Will have to ponder that some.

No comments: