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Lack of Experience in Teaching: Lessons From Quick Starters

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 
600

Teaching can overwhelm you because most junior faculty have failed to receive either careful supervision of their teaching or coaching in the tricks of the trade. If they had received these in graduate school, they would begin their careers as more effective, efficient, and comfortable teachers. Because they are usually unprepared as they take their first job, they can feel intense anxiety about their duties in the classroom. As their research and writing are put off, their anxiety intensifies.

Folks:

The posting below gives some excellent advice for beginning faculty on how to make their first teaching experiences as effective and enjoyable as possible. It is from Chapter 6: Good Practices in Mentoring, in Faculty Diversity: Problems and Solutions, by JoAnn Moody. Published in 2004 by RoutledgeFalmer, 29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001 [www.routledge-ny.com]. Copyright ? 2004 by Taylor and Francis Books, Inc. RoutledgeFalmer is an imprint of the Taylor and Francis Group. Reprinted with permission.

Regards,

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

UP NEXT: The DOs and DON'Ts of Online Learning

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

 

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LACK OF EXPERIENCE IN TEACHING: LESSONS FROM QUICK STARTERS

 

Teaching can overwhelm you because most junior faculty have failed to receive either careful supervision of their teaching or coaching in the tricks of the trade. If they had received these in graduate school, they would begin their careers as more effective, efficient, and comfortable teachers. Because they are usually unprepared as they take their first job, they can feel intense anxiety about their duties in the classroom. As their research and writing are put off, their anxiety intensifies.

What can a new teacher do? Some new faculty express remarkable satisfaction with and enjoyment of their teaching and receive high ratings for their teaching effectiveness from students and expert observers. These new faculty, whom Boice dubs "quick starters," exhibit many of the following traits (Boice, 1992b, 2000).

Quick starters are student-friendly. Arriving early to their classes, quick starters chat informally with their students. Showing interest in their students, they work hard to learn their names. Quick starters hand out very informal class evaluations early in the course, to find out anonymously what students are finding most helpful and least helpful thus far about the course, the class discussion, and the like. The quick starters then review these anonymous points in class, encourage students to react, and explain what refinements and modifications, usually minor, will be made as a result of this evaluation and ensuing discussion. Students usually appreciate this invitation to give feedback. In the class discussion prompted by it, the students come to better understand the professor's pedagogical goals and strategies, better comprehend the professor's pedagogical goals and strategies, better comprehend how they can improve their own class participation, and sometimes ! better grasp the dynamics of groups and group discussion. Finally, quick starters enhance the classroom experience of all students by dealing with students who may be obstructing productive class discussion. Quick starters don't shy away from cordially "dampening down" monopolizers.

Quick starters regard their teaching as somewhat public and continuously improving. These wide individuals refuse to have preparation for classes take up their whole workweek, to the near exclusion of scholarship/writing and professional networking/collegiality. Instead, they take the initiative to seek teaching advice and tricks of the trade from junior and senior colleagues on their own and other departments. Visiting colleagues' classrooms, inviting others to theirs, experimenting and at times briefly co-teaching with diverse colleagues-these are typical moves. Another is to track down the exceptionally accomplished teachers on campus and consult with them. Such treating of teaching and learning as open-ended and public enterprises (rather than closed, private, and proprietary) should be come more widespread, according to the American Association for Higher Education, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and other reform-minded groups.

The Internet is quickening this reform, because faculty can now communicate about their teaching problems and successes via several bulletin boards sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Science Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, and several disciplinary societies. Talking, reading, and thinking about their teaching and their students' learning are enjoyable to quick starters; they say they plan to experiment even more to increase effectiveness and stimulation for both themselves and their students.

Quick starters take their time in the classroom. Boice notes that going too fast through lectures, discussions, problem solutions, and the assigned materials are predictable mistakes made especially by nervous beginners. Furthermore, slow starters believe lecturing is the only way to teach. Delivering perfect "facts-and-principles" lectures is their consuming goal. They present too much material too rapidly in the classroom. They try to ignore the bored and sometimes hostile reactions from students. Overpreparing for their lectures, they teach defensively so to avoid being accused of not knowing their material. Above all, they fear being exposed as an imposter. They have few plans to improve their teaching beyond improving the content of their lectures and making student assignments and tests easier.

Quick starters, on the other hand, realize they must slow down their class presentations and in various ways check to see that the students are not being left behind. Early on, quick starters try to promote critical thinking by their students; they make sure that their students are preparing for class and that they, not just the instructor, are doing intellectual work during the class period. In their courses, they spotlight some of their own specialized research interests and projects: Both the student an the instructor usually enjoy this examination of something fresh and new, and usually a few students will be drawn in as apprentices to the instructor as a result of this intellectual sharing.

Determined to generate productive student interactions, quick starters also experiment with a range of discussion techniques until they find what works for them and their unique personalities. According to Duke University professor Anne Firor Scott, an "important part of a teacher's responsibility is to plan classroom experiences that promote a sense of discovery." The point is "to activate an intelligence to being learning on its own?and help students learn how that knowledge came to be and how it can be used to think through problems and organize concepts" (1995, p. 187).

How can the professor, junior and senior, become more comfortable and competent in promoting students' discussion and critical thinking? In her article "Why I Teach by Discussion," Scott shares her tricks of the trade regarding how to do this: First, carefully design the syllabus for an active-learning course; conceptually ready the students for active learning; ensure students' class attendance; be ready to jump-start student discussion and to deal with occasional "dead silence"; keep discussion on track; summarize frequently; model mannerly and respectful behavior during spirited arguments; and design appropriate examinations and evaluations for an active-learning course. Conceptually, the approach in Scott's classes is to cover less (material) and discover more-an approach I recommend to the doctoral and dissertation scholars I coach who are preparing to be college professors. Scott concludes: "Keep thinking about the educational process, what it ought to accomplish, h! ow one can make it work better" (1995, pp. 190-91).

For helpful pointers on how to use case studies to nurture class discussion and a learning community in the classroom, check the Harvard Business School Press's Education for Judgment: The Artistry of Discussion Leadership (Christensen, Garvin, and Sweet, 1991). Writing case studies for one's own classes is within the realm of possibility. Try it! It can be fun. Here's another tip. In a large lecture class, stop the class once or twice per meeting; pose a question (try to make it funny sometimes) and ask for a show of hands for one of three answers; then ask each student to take five minutes to convince a neighbor of the "correct" answer; then after five minutes; ask for another show of hands. Minds can change through animated talking. Harvard professor Art Mazur has documented that his students comprehend and retain more when he uses this technique in his large lecture course (Teaching Science Collaboratively videotape). There are many more such techniques; ask your! colleagues, near and far, what works for them.

Finally, a new teacher must concentrate on learning to be efficient and wise about the use of time. a memorable analogy is offered by Assistant Professor Kim Needy in industrial engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. She observes: "Teaching preparation can be more like a gas than a liquid or a solid. In other words, it will fill all the space available to it if you let it. You can always add a case study, improve an overhead, and revise a handout. At some point, you have to put a box around it and say, 'enough'" (quoted in Reis's Listserv, March 16, 1998).