Category Archives: Teaching

March 16, 2010, 1:43 pm

College Teaching 101: Managing The Lecture Class

In February 2010, I participated in a Roundtable discussion about teaching lecture classes at Zenith. The following essay about teaching is developed from the notes I prepared for that occasion.

Why is it important to learn how to teach lecture classes well?

First of all, for many of us, lecturing will make up the lion’s share of our course load – whether you measure that in students taught (a SLAC) or courses taught (a research or state university.) Novice teachers live with the terror of a little-acknowledged fact: the lecture room is where your weaknesses, or your inexperience, are most easily revealed; it is where your expertise will be challenged most publicly, often by questions that come out of left field, questions that may be designed to undermine you — or not. Disturbing things happen in the lecture room because students (having not yet gone to graduate school to be…

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February 5, 2010, 2:48 pm

A New Deal For Higher Education: Start With More Small Classes For Everyone

Because I have the advantage of a faculty fellowship at Zenith’s Center for the Humanities this semester, I teach only on Thursday. All Thursday morning I prepare for class; all Thursday afternoon I teach it. It’s very tidy, and also very satisfying. Because of my blogging ethic I can’t tell you what happens during class, but I can tell you I like our meetings immensely. I can also tell you that I have fewer than ten students enrolled. To be honest, there are six.

But wait — you will say: fewer than ten students? Have you become unpopular? Does your dean know? How is that a good use of the university’s money?

Well, the truth is, normally my classes are overenrolled, so I consider this to be some kind of cosmic payback for years of overwork in the classroom and elsewhere. For a variety of reasons, plenty of my colleagues teach fewer than ten students per class all the time; this…

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January 8, 2009, 2:38 pm

The Radical’s History Reviewed: When I Was Bad, I Was Horrid

Mostly because they have been linked by my history colleague Historiann, I have of late been drawn to the luridly enraged and cruelly hilarious posts at Rate Your Students. A blog response to the notorious RateMyProfessors.com, RYS, from my point of view, is a kind of academic pornography: it’s outrageous, and it relies on cruel caricatures of students that have enough truth in them to make them universally recognizable — the terrible students described at this blog can be found at a community college, an Ivy, or any stop in between. It doesn’t stop at pillorying undergraduates, but produces the occasional post that skewers graduate students for being whining, careless little piss-ants.

You will notice that RYS is not on the list of blogs I follow regularly (see widget on the left), but in fact I do follow it regularly from a bookmarked link in my Safari navbar. While there are many …

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November 13, 2008, 4:03 pm

Tenure, Tee-shirts and Triangulation: School Reform In The News

Michelle Rhee, the superintendent of schools in the District of Columbia, is moving to abolish tenure for teachers. Because tenure is the third rail of public education, she claims she isn’t. But she is. Rhee is in charge of one of the most troubled systems in the country — or perhaps just the most visibly troubled, since the collapse of public schools in the nation’s capital are a particularly vivid barometer of the terrible state of urban public education more generally. Her current plan is to reduce the number of tenured teachers in the system by offering salary incentives for teachers to give up their tenure and simply teach well.

Rhee’s approach to change doesn’t help sell what is actually a sensible plan: if you have followed her career, you know that she reacts to dissent in the ranks with the polish of your average despot. Her rock ‘em, sock ‘em administrative style makes …

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April 27, 2008, 3:42 pm

How Sharper Than A Serpent’s Tooth It Is…Or Is It? The Radical Rates Rate My Professors.com

A couple weeks ago, I Googled myself. Admit it: you do it too. But it really is worth doing occasionally if you have become a blogger, because it gives you the illusion that you have some clue as to whether you are being needlessly slandered by others. Strangely, Tenured Radical itself is #5 in terms of hits for “Claire Potter,” whereas a paper I gave at the University of Connecticut five years ago is on the top of the list (I suppose because the paper was about J. Edgar Hoover, who is slightly better known than I am.) But imagine my surprise when I saw at spot #3 the phrase: “Claire Potter is arrogant and inflammatory….” Whoa, now. Imagine my further surprise when, upon closer inspection, the post was not located in any place where I am used to being bashed for my politics or my behavior, but on the website faculty love to hate, RateMyProfessors.com.

Since I asked…

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November 9, 2007, 6:37 pm

The Doctor Needs Advice: Office Hours

Those of you who have been following Tenured Radical since before the 2.0 edition may remember the day when I realized (with a hot bang) that I had written about matters close to my heart in such a way as to lead my students and colleagues to believe that they could, or thought they could, recognize themselves in my blog entries. One offended colleague even wrote a snarky comment accusing me of being unfit to blog because, in one post, I had split an infinitive (yes, people were that upset.) I can’t guess in what department that person works. Can you?

Note: despite the difficult syntax, I did not conclude the penultimate sentence in the previous paragraph with a preposition. Ho ho ho. The grammarians aren’t going to have me to kick around anymore.

So what I am about to say skates on thin ice, I am sure, but only because a great many students say and do the same things, not because I …

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September 19, 2007, 12:35 am

The Radical Reports In and Things Are Excellent Here in Radical Land

Its been awhile. But don’t worry. I’m back, blog-dudes and dudettes.

Since I started Tenured Radical, except for vacation, I do not think I have gone six days without a new post, as I just did. I do not, as some bloggers seem to, experience guilt for neglecting my blog (one of my flaws, I have been told in my deep past by women heading out the door with suitcases in hand, is that guilt and I are not as fully acquainted as we might be.) But I do miss my audience, and I miss writing freely. I miss stealing pictures. I miss Flavia.

One of the reasons I have been absent is starting school in my dual roles as chair of American Studies and the Director of the Castle: it’s a little like being Batman and Robin at the same time. There are endless small but necessary tasks to be done every day, from signing many student forms (“Holy oversubscription, Batman!”) to making sure we have a proper …

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September 4, 2007, 10:23 pm

Reminiscing: the Radical Was Once A Visiting Professor

I haven’t forgotten that post I said I would do about what visitors should expect from the institutions that hire them. I even thought I might do that post tonight, as I was enjoying oatmeal with brown sugar and fresh bluberries, and a large glass of fresh squeezed o.j. early this morning at the student center. But not now, and this is why; today, as I was leaving the Castle, dead beat from a day of being chair, one of our visiting faculty came out of his office. He leaned over the bannister, gave me a big grin and said good night. Now wasn’t that nice? And our other visitors are terrific too — I can’t tell you how terrific, since I promised not to write about others. But aside from saving my life, they are really great, smart people, and genuinely excited to be at Zenith, which is nice to see.

So, the night before I start my survey course for the umpteenth time, I began to have…

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August 26, 2007, 1:02 pm

Welcome to Relationships 101, New Professors

Hello New Professors!

Welcome to XU. Right now, your life is a rush of new knowledge, for which graduate school prepared you not at all. Sure, there are some experiences you have already had, like having to get a campus map in your head while you were unpacking and finishing your syllabus. (Actually — have your belongings arrived yet, or are are you balancing your lap top on your bicycle rack while sitting cross-legged on the floor? That’s what I thought.)

And there are other things you know — you have at least been a section leader at CU, or perhaps you have even run your own seminar, so you have some idea of what will happen on the first day of class. You are vowing to memorize all your students’ names in the first week, and you have even written a number of lectures in advance before things get crazy. Perhaps you have been assigned a mentor, having just escaped your graduate…

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August 1, 2007, 1:15 pm

The Radical Leads the Lambs Out Of The Wilderness: Six Pieces of Random Advice For The Novice Teacher

In this post at Center of Gravitas Gayprof tells a story about having been diagnosed as color blind by a school nurse when he was but a wee Gayprof. Since the nurse explained nothing, and told him to go home and tell his parents, Gayprof — assuming that this was merely a stage on the way to complete blindness and wishing to shield the parental units from this tragedy — kept it to himself and merely suffered in silence until Nurse Ratched had the wit to call his home. Isn’t school great?

This caused me to think, in turn, about the most peculiar thing I ever got wrong as a child. On the first day of nursery school, perhaps as a way of staving off tears from the most delicate of us, the teachers would say every once in a while: “Your carpools will be coming soon!” Now, I knew what a car was — I had arrived in my mother’s big yellow Mercury. And I knew what a pool was: I swam…

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