Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On becoming a worse teacher

I'm pretty sure I'm becoming a worse teacher. The thought hit me again after class on Monday. It was a congenial 50 minutes, 18 students, my learning community faculty partner, and me. The class was supposed to give students the experience of writing definitions of learning goals, and examining those we have in place at Westminster. (This is part of a pilot for an e-portfolio initiative the college is starting, more on which some other time.)

No grousing from the students, no tuning out, a willingness to participate, and to do the follow-up assignment. But when the class was over I felt a bit queasy, sort of the way I feel when I lie. I don't think I was able to give that class the attention it needed, and so the class period didn't bring students the opportunity to learn that they deserve. (Or maybe what I felt ws the absence of the charge I sometimes feel when a class goes really well...)

There are all sorts of explanations for this--it could have been a fluke, the topic might not have been meaty enough, the students weren't ready to get what I had planned, I was having a bad day. But I think there are two deeper issues that I need to get my head around as an administrator trying to lead classes that end up with student learning:

1. teaching is a practice, and like all practices it takes, well, practice. As an administrator teaching only one freshman seminar this semester (and that as part of a pilot focused on college-wide learning goals and e-portfolios) I don't get the practice that allows class to be like a sport, where my reactions come naturally, not as part of a labored plan for 50 minutes.

2. I haven't found a way to bring my passion to bear in this class. The class is technically good, based (as best I can) on learning outcomes rather than my teaching and research expertise. But without a way to show my passion, the class feels too technical and I feel isolated from it.

These are my challenges of course. And they may not really matter, since what actually matters is the ability of students to learn (which I trust they are doing over the course of the semester.)

But I wonder if they are broader challenges that colleges and universities face, as more classes are led by part-time faculty (be they administrators, staff, or adjuncts) and as the shift to a learning paradigm from a teaching paradigm re-orients the ways that faculty contribute to class. Thoughts? Are any of you getting worse in the classroom? Are your colleagues?

1 comment:

Peter said...

Perhaps your response to your class today is actually the norm in high education. It might be that even well intentioned courses that are thoughtfully designed with specific learning objectives and a focus on student learning are, at times,just so-so for the faculty. Perhaps this is actually about what the student is doing and not about your passion or how practiced you are? Try not to focus on you and focus more on the students.