Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The posting below looks at how Philip Zwerling, assistant professor of English at the University of Texas - Pan American, uses the Tomorrow's Professor archives in his courses. If any other subscribers are using the archives in teaching or research please let me know more about what you are doing.
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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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Teaching Tomorrow's Professor Today
In graduate school I learned to research Shakespeare's plays, contextualize various long forgotten Victorian actors and revision turgid American melodramas but no one ever taught me how to respond to a Call for Proposals with an abstract, present a conference paper, query a potential publisher, formulate a syllabus, or put together a c.v., a cover letter, or a teaching philosophy or turn my theatre Ph.D. into an academic job. I emerged well educated in my field but at sea in my profession.
I stumbled into a visiting position at a tiny Northeastern residential liberal arts college and then into a tenure track position at a mid-size Texas public university and discovered my miseducation being repeated there by another generation of graduate students. I was teaching playwriting and various other creative writing genres but I also wanted to teach the facts of (academic) life to these (academic) virgins on the cusp of ill-prepared entry into the real (academic) world.
At first I gathered Teaching Assistants and Student Assistants for a mandatory but non-credit course that met five times in the semester. This only allowed us time for sharing stories from the academy's front lines but I knew these student needed more: the hands on experience of shaping their own professional lives.
It took two years for me to get a new course added to our catalog and \"Introduction to the Profession of Creative Writing,\" English 6330, approved by the department, university, Provost, and, finally, The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. It launched this fall, immediately drawing maximum enrollment from graduate students in both English and Communications.
Developing the syllabus for 6330 this past summer, I knew then what I wanted to teach. As my main topics I chose: understanding academia; teaching; relationships, ethics and self-care; finding a job; and publishing. But how would I teach all that? For years I had been reading books on pedagogy and wanted to use: My Freshman Year by Rebekah Nathan, In the Basement of the Ivory Tower by Professor X, How the University Works by Marc Bousquet, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks and Teaching Creative Writing edited by Graeme Harper. But that would be too many books. I decided they'd be on my suggested reading list.
I also had a stack of relevant articles from national magazines: \"The Rise of Creative Writing\" by Steve Healey in The Writer's Chronicle (Vol.41, no.4),\"Literary Rejection\" by Ronald Goldfarb also in The Writer's Chronicle (vl.41, no.3),\"Show and Tell: Should Creative Writing be Taught?\" by Louis Menand in The New Yorker ( 6/8-15/09), \"The Liminal Servant and the Ritual Roots of Critical Pedagogy\" by Peter McLaren in Language Arts (February, 1988), \"The Ph. D. Problem\" by Louis Menand in Harvard Magazine (Nov/Dec. 2009), \"The End of the University as We know It\" by Mark C. Taylor in The New York Times (4/27/09),\"Intellectual Proletarians\" by Heather Steffen (The Chronicle Review, 11/29/10), \"Nasty Weather\" (Inside Higher Ed, 5/16/11),\"Faulty Towers\" by William Deresiewicz in The Nation ( 5/23/11), and \"The AAUP Statement on Academic Freedom (1940),\" as well as MFA Reading Lists from Brooklyn College, the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and San Jose Sate University. These I decided to scan in and post on-line as required reading.
But I found my ultimate solution in \"Tomorrow's Professor\" and finally built the vast majority of the course readings around the extensive TP archives which now cover over 13 years and are all available for free at http://cgi.stanford.edu/~dept-ctl/tomprof/postings.php.
I've been a TP subscriber for a decade, since I was a grad student, and used the email subscription for my own education on all the topics I now planned to teach. In fact, I remember a department meeting at my first teaching post where the Chair had asked who subscribed to TP and only I raised my hand. Afterwards, she often mentioned my commitment to pedagogy, as she perceived it, as evidenced by my TP subscription.
Preparing for the course that would meet each week for fifteen weeks in three hour each sessions, I hand wrote my planned main topics on a sheet of paper I have before me now and then went through the TP archives of the then 1115 articles, jotting down likely titles beneath each course topic. I saw that I would soon have more than enough readings. In addition, almost every article referred to other books on the same subject, insuring that my students could pursue in more depth any subject that interested them.
We're now more than half way through the course and I am pleased with our progress. In the first two weeks this fall we looked at the contemporary plight of the university, reading: TP # 612, \"Organization of a Typical University,\" TP #772, \"Academic Freedom,\" TP #1064, \"The Modern American University: A Love Story,\" TP # 1094, \"Academic Freedom\" again.
Weeks three, four, and five we devoted to teaching: reading TP #80, \"Quotations on Teaching.\" TP #193, \"Writing a Teaching Philosophy,\" TP #269, \"Why do we teach?,\" TP #926, \"Your First Semester of Teaching,\" TP #998, \"Teaching Philosophies,\" TP # 766, \"Teaching as an Imposition,\" TP # 873, \"Professors Need to Lighten Up,\" TP #595, \"The Function of the Course Syllabus,\" TP #733, \"Personal Philosophies of Teaching,\" TP #724, \"Reflections on More than half a century of Teaching,\" TP # 961, \"The Ten Worst Teaching Mistakes,\" TP #1046, \"Why Are Students So Passive and What Can We do About It,\"TP #1070, \"Mistaken Beliefs About Learning to Teach,\" TP # 729, \"Playing as Pedagogy,\" TP #690, \"Overview of Service Learning,\" TP #814, \"Components of Positive Student-Faculty Relationships,\" TP #886, \"But we didn't mean to teach porn... ,\"TP #906, \"The Place of Political Learning,\" TP #931, \"On the Future of Engagement,\" TP #1008, \"Displaying a Personal Interest in Students,\" and TP #1057, \"Bridging Learning Research and....\"
Week 6 we tackled self-care and read TP #828, \"Setting Boundaries,\" TP #837, \"Avoid Burnout,\" and TP #946, \"Ten Ways to Grow a Backbone.\"
For week seven's discussion of the job search we tackled TP #105, \"Applying for Academic positions\" and since TP #1118, \"The Hiring Process for Community College Faculty,\" had been emailed out since the course began I included it also.
Our week 8 discussion of professional ethics had no TP archival readings. Nor did our week nine discussion of professional development. But for our weeks' ten and eleven look at publications and research I assigned TP #316, \"Writing a Paper that will get published,\" TP #661, \"Publish and Flourish,\" TP #754, \"On Journal Rejection,\" and TP #841, \"Writing in the Academy.\"
As I look ahead I see week twelve's discussion of academic conferences has no TP readings but in week 14 and 15 we'll cover being a writer and read TP #392, \"Book Proposal guidelines\" and TP #197, \"How Do you handle Rejection?\"
The writing assignments mirrored the topic readings: in weeks' one and two students produced a first and second draft a Curriculum Vitae. In weeks three and four they wrote a first and and then a second draft of their Teaching Philosophy. Weeks five and six required two drafts of a creative writing course syllabus they would like to teach. In week seven they put together a resource list of 20 academic journals and professional associations in their field. In Week eight they to produced a list of 20 literary magazines that might accept their creative work. In week nine students will produce a paper abstract for a conference proposal and we'll finish the course with a book review aimed at a targeted journal and a query letter or book proposal for a specific journal or publisher. When we're done students will have most of what they need to produce a job application packet and plump up their cvs with conferences and publications.
The students came to the course with varying levels of professional development. For the first assignment I learned that 12 of 15 of them had no cv of their own. When we finished the assignment they all had a cv though these ranged in size from 5 pages to a single page. The side benefit of the exercise was their immediate realization that they needed to publish more, present more, and join more organizations to appear stronger on paper. In response I invited several of them to teach a meeting of my undergraduate Introduction to Creative Writing class giving them a chance to get some teaching experience, give me some personal observations I can share on future letters of references, and add a cv line at the same time.
Not one student had previously written a statement of Teaching Philosophy and even their second drafts were not ready to submit with a jobapplication. However, they grasped the concept and will now be working on more rewrites.
Few had ever prepared a syllabus before but their proposals looked good, with assigned text books they'd researched or read and a detailed time line of study over a semester. When they each brought in their lists of 20 academic journals in their field one student volunteered to collate the list and we'll soon publish a single list not only to those in the class but to all the students in our MFA program. We'll do the same with the lists due next week of literary journals. Students had no idea so many venues existed for their work nor how to submit.
Last week my mid semester course evaluation revealed that all the students felt they were learning the skills they'd taken the course for. As strengths for the course they most frequently cited doing two drafts of each assignment (cv, teaching philosophy, and syllabus) and getting peer reviewed. Most noted that they learned the most from the class discussions with their peers. In anonymous comments students wrote: \"I am almost finished with my degree but this is the first time I am getting valuable knowledge about the steps to obtaining a job in the real world,\" \"I have learned a lot about teaching from the discussions and the TP readings,\" \"I like that we're 'beginning with the end in mind' so to speak in that we're discussing the professional career from the inside out and being asked to finally stop the procrastination,\" \"The TP website with all the articles on being a prof is great.\"
The class is meeting my expectations and I know my grad students will be better informed and better prepared for the real (academic) world than I was.