The Magic Of Teaching

While many posts on this site are critical of the balance between the costs of and the value provided by higher education institutions, this entry is intended to be more forward looking.  Ultimately, I see the industry in the midst of changes and real vision is needed to evolve these campuses in a manner that will best meet the needs of students, faculty, and the constituents they serve in a fiscally responsible manner.

A friend of  mine sent this to me.  He was asked what made his classroom special and how he has been able to engage students in a discipline (computer and information systems) that has a reputation for being unpopular.

The questions really took me by surprise.  Throughout my career, people have always asked me for some magic solution to how to approach teaching students.  I particularly enjoy colleagues who ask for my syllabus expecting to find something new and unique about it.  As if by copying it they might also find a rabbit in a hat.  It makes me shake my head.  What can I say I must be a magician in the classroom.

To be honest, there is no illusion, no supernatural force, no innate quality that has made my courses successful.  I take pride in my assessment and evaluations and I work hard to make sure that they are always excellent.  It is not always easy and it certainly does not happen by cutting corners.

I plan my course and set objectives for what I want students to achieve at the end of each class, at the end of each week, at mid-term, and at the end of the course.  While this sounds like common sense I have found that this is sometimes the hardest do.  Start with a blank slate, not with someone else’s syllabus.  Not with the textbook that was used in the past.  Not with old teaching notes.  Right now, today, this quarter, what do you want students to understand?

I prepare daily lessons, materials, lectures, activities, projects, and exams that will push the students to meet those goals.  Yes, it is alright to push your students.  You may even find you enjoy  motivating them.  I have found that this is specific to the student.  Understand their learning styles and how you can incorporate various teaching methods to best reach them.  This is uncomfortable, but you will grow as a teacher and the students will respect your efforts.

I assess student work and give them an opportunity to critique my class.  Feedback is necessary to development, theirs and yours.  Notice that I mentioned I assess, I do not hire out, I do not collect work without providing comments.  If you want students to take your assignments seriously, spend the time to notice what they do.  Likewise, when students evaluate your class look for opportunities to improve.  Does this mean that you should cater to every single criticism; of course not.  Listen and react to the remarks that fit your objectives or can help you understand a more specific learning style.

I manage my course, and my students, like it is my lifeblood.  Coming from a consulting background I had to manage large revenue accounts.  When they had issues, I responded.  During the workday, afterhours, on weekends, I responded.  I did not always have a solution right away, but I acknowledged the situation and provided a plan of action.

Again, it’s not magic.  Put the effort and energy into your course instead of copying somebody else’s vision.  Do not fall into the trap of teaching a class that has been shrink-wrapped inside a box.  You know the type.  No need to create a lesson plan, just use the provided.  Mindless regurgitation that neither motivates nor inspires.

I know, I know there is no time, no resources, no recognition for going above the marginal level that has come to be accepted for university faculty.  Do it anyway.  Take pride in your teaching.  Your students will thank you for it.

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