All posts by George David Clark

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A Sense of Camaraderie

November can be a long month for academic job seekers, perhaps the time when academe seems coldest. With several fields holding their national conferences shortly after the holidays, many applicants will know in these first weeks of December if they will have an opportunity to interview. Until then we wait and practice the morbid algebra of the market: x ads minus y internal candidates, divided by the number of qualified applicants equals … well, it’s not pretty. In the anonymous space of job wi…

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Beyond the Teaching Statement

I recently traded application materials with a good friend who, like me, will re-enter the job market this fall. We read over each other’s standard cover letter, CV, etc., both to proofread and, at least in my case, to steal a glimpse at the competition. My friend is an articulate and passionate communicator, and I know her teaching to be engaging and effective. She’s the type of professor I always hoped for as a student and most respect as a colleague. I’d like to take one of her classes now.

W…

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Demagogues and Prophets

Last week a few of my creative-writing students visited me during office hours to ask what they should write. It wasn’t that they needed an assignment clarified, but rather that with a major project looming they wanted me to direct them in some way that would guarantee success. Though we have studied various models in class, they recognize the risks inherent in their choices and some would prefer I select for them. Like most teachers in the humanities I am met with versions of this request fairl…

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Teaching the Program

A friend once told me about a sophomore in his 20th-century American-history course who couldn’t remember which side had won the Civil War. Like my friend, from time to time I am caught off guard by what students don’t know, and in response I usually find myself muttering something about what’s not being taught in high school, or in the university’s gen-ed requirements, or even in my own department’s intro courses. Meanwhile some member of the grad faculty is surely chiding the gaps in my former…

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The Dreaded Class Visit

I like to think I take criticism well. The years I spent in creative-writing workshops probably contribute to that trait. In my experience it takes practice to develop the combination of humility and confidence one needs to hear others point out the flaws in your work and to fully benefit from their critique. That and a faith in the process.

Ultimately, thoughtful criticism can be addictive. These days, without the gauntlet of a structured workshop to keep me honest, I trade work a couple of tim…

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Bad and Better Questions

We often encourage students with the promise that “there are no bad questions,” but of course there are. The usual suspects show up with some regularity: the lazy question, the question that’s already been answered, the off-topic or unintelligible question, the mildly insulting question, etc. It should go without saying that good teaching incorporates even misguided inquiries into productive discussion. When we say “there is no bad question,” perhaps we’re thinking “there is no question I can’t …

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Deep Learning for the New Teacher

In my last post I summarized some of the pedagogical issues I’ve been grappling with as a younger teacher, and today I’d like to share a few thoughts on the notion of deep learning and how that concept might affect the goals I set for my classes. Let me begin by recounting the research narrative of two Arizona State University physicists.

In the early 1980s Ibrahim Abou Halloun and David Hestenes began examining how their students understood the principles of motion. They started by testing unde…

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A Pedagogy’s Punctuated Equilibrium

The first time I wrote a statement of teaching philosophy, I had just entered a doctoral program and was participating in a mandatory professional-development workshop. We read a handful of model statements by faculty members in the department and then set out to write our own. The form was clear and straightforward: Lead with general but enthusiastic statements about the teaching mission, introduce some of the complicating pedagogical issues specific to the field, find one or two opportunities …

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Bill

On a recent campus interview a friend of mine quickly got the sense that something slightly strange was going on in the department. More than once the mention of “Bill” triggered a series of knowing smiles. My friend knew Bill, or thought he did, from the department’s Web site, which included faculty photos and biographical notes. In fact, he was looking forward to their meeting since it seemed they shared certain specialties, but those smiles scared him away from questions. Toward the end of hi…

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Teaching a Tragedy

One of the things I appreciate most about my current university is the purposeful community building I see taking place on this campus, the attempt to engage students outside the classroom in ways that challenge their hearts in addition to their minds. Here I’m thinking of the performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor that brought master musicians to our campus last month or the freshman debates I’ll be attending tonight. That sense of community beyond the classroom is particularly strong in the hon…