May 23, 2013, 2:40 pm
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 to describe specific classroom successes, and conclude with a summary expression of how exciting it is to see students achieve under your direction.
Additionally, it seemed, one should note that this was a philosophy in progress. Every statement we saw included that point, and, after all, some in the workshop were teaching their first courses even as we attempted to define our practice. I’m…
May 20, 2013, 1:48 pm
As I read Robert Zaretsky’s recent post, “What’s at Stake with Grade Inflation,” in which he notes how poorly his history students write, I couldn’t help but recall a confrontation I had several years ago with a business professor at the college where I was teaching at the time.
I was walking across campus one bright, sunny day (this was in Florida, where almost all the days are bright and sunny), when I saw this colleague coming toward me on the hedge-lined concrete walkway. He and I had enjoyed a cordial relationship over the years, occasionally stopping to chat about children and vacations and such when we ran into each other on campus, so I smiled as he approached and prepared to greet him.
Then I noticed he wasn’t smiling.
In fact, he looked downright angry. And as he got closer, I could see that he was indeed livid. Before I could ask what was wrong, he stopped directly in…
May 17, 2013, 3:28 pm
As an office-less adjunct, I have traditionally shied away from one-on-one workshops about writing with my students. It takes a huge amount of time to do, especially since I and my students are generally on the campus only at night. I know the value of such personal feedback, though, so in the last two semesters I have experimented with ways to make it work.
So now we lose one week of whole-class instruction to make way for individual time with the final paper, a purple pen, and me. Instead of our usual 2 hours 40 minutes of class time, meeting with everyone who chooses to (about two-thirds) takes about four hours per class.
I’ve got to say, this last round of workshops was highly gratifying. I saw such improvement in my writers. Not perfect papers by any means, but evidence of students ready for English 101 in the fall. They’ll be well equipped for the next step in their education…
May 14, 2013, 2:50 pm
When I was a fourth grader, wearing my kelly-green Girl Scout uniform, I got to lead the pledge of allegiance for a naturalization ceremony. I was a shy kid, in front of what seemed to be a huge room of people in an imposing building downtown. Yet I don’t remember being scared at all. I was proud to be a part of something that seemed important.
I’ve given up wearing a sash with badges of my skills, though perhaps it is a look I could bring back into fashion. I hadn’t thought of my brush with citizenship in a lot of years, until a few weeks ago.
A student in my intro-to-composition class came up to talk to me, saying she’d have to miss the next session. The reason? She was getting naturalized, becoming a U.S. citizen after a process that had taken years. She had her appointment paper to prove it and excitedly showed it to me. The ceremony was to be held in the state capital, more…
May 9, 2013, 2:49 pm
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 his visit, though, my friend and his host bumped into Bill in a hallway, and he finally got the joke.
This was not the trim, black-suited Bill from the Web site. This man wore dreadlocks past his shoulders and dressed in shorts and sandals. A cannabis leaf was painted on each of his big toenails. Their research did overlap (or had at some point), but, as my friend discovered, he was interviewing …
April 25, 2013, 4:06 pm
Ms. Mentor recently wrote about offering a class reward if, for a whole semester, no one asked a question whose answer could be found in the syllabus. A community-college accounting professor told me that she gives a giant candy bar to those few students who receive 100-percent test scores. I thought both of these ideas were fun and motivational.
I have two sons—one driven by a strong internal compass of right and wrong. He’s still young, but he doesn’t need many external rewards or punishments. His brother is the complete opposite, needing both carrots and sticks to get anything done.
Given the conundrums of extra credit, what other kinds of motivation have you used with students? I am more of a negative-reinforcement giver and think that I would do well to try to change a bit. Simply saying that an assignment will be worth more points if it’s turned in by a certain date, rather…
April 24, 2013, 2:16 pm
Students think I’m an “easy” teacher. For a quick and not-so-credible example, I have a 4.5 out of 5 “easiness” rating on RateMyProfessors. I also catch bits and pieces from the rumor mill. My classes fill up quickly, in part because students have heard that class is “easy.” While this still does get to me a little, it’s beginning to bother me less.
Hearing students say my class is easy used to really bother me. I thought that I wasn’t challenging them enough. I thought that I was too lenient. I thought that maybe students should feel more pressure in my class, like they do in some other classes. They would sometimes talk about how they have an exam coming up that they spent all weekend studying for. My immediate reaction was to feel offended that they didn’t spend all weekend researching their essays or otherwise examining their topics.
I’m beginning to realize that my classes—I…
April 19, 2013, 2:30 pm
“Consider offering extra credit for students who attend,” suggests e-mail after e-mail from various entities on campus. Senders are touting art exhibitions, philosophy debates, librarian outreach in the community, guest speakers, forums, and who knows what else.
These are great activities that would enrich my students if they attended. I hope they will do things outside of class to be part of the larger community. However, this message of extra credit is in direct opposition to the syllabus and standards that I have been told I must teach from.
For developmental English courses, how students are graded is spelled out very strictly at my college. I am only supposed to give credit for tests and writing assignments, with those category weights being dictated by the department. I dislike being managed so much but accept it as part of the job—particularly as an adjunct faculty member….
April 16, 2013, 11:49 am
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 honors college where I teach, but last night I saw it on a larger scale in the form of a prayer vigil held for the victims of the Boston bombings. The image of hundreds of students, faculty, and administrators coming together in response to this tragedy has been much in my mind this morning as I prepare for class.
In a few hours I’ll be teaching a room of freshmen, all of them 18 or 19 years old, …
April 12, 2013, 2:21 pm
I attended my grandfather’s funeral recently. He was a professor for more than 40 years, teaching tax law and other things that seem horribly boring to me. I was gratified that, in addition to family remembrances, a colleague from the university also spoke. Students were a huge part of my grandfather’s life, so much so that going out to eat with him was often difficult since we would run into people he knew everywhere.
The overall consensus from students was that my grandfather was exceedingly hard and exceedingly good at preparing them for whatever would come next—further training or a career. The rigor, while daunting, was understood and respected.
My young son, sitting next to me at the service, asked me if grandpa had taught me to be a teacher. At first I said no, but the question stuck with me. My grandfather was an attorney and businessman, in addition to being a professor….