The Joy of Teaching: A Practical Guide for New College Instructors (Anglais) Broché – 1 mars 2005
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I wouldn't have titled it "The Joy of Teaching" because that makes me think of a "Chicken Soup for the Teacher's Soul" kind of text, full of student success stories that are heart-warming and valuable, but don't always meet our need for specific, real-life guidance. The word "practical" is the key word in the title. That's what this book is - practical. And accurate. Detailed and relevant also come to mind. It tells you what you can actually do the month before, week before, night before and minute before walking into your first lecture hall as a teacher.
A lot of time is spent on how to create a comprehensive, practical syllabus, and then what to do when that document fails to accomplish everything you hoped it would. Other topics include planning your class discussions, forming exam questions and how much time to spend on office hours.
It's targeted at new college instructors, but I think I appreciated the advice more as a fourth year instructor than I would have as a totally new teacher. Only someone who has already made many of the minor to moderate mistakes this book warns against, and suffered the major consequences, can fully appreciate the wisdom in these pages.
When I first bought it, I highlighted several pages. Now, I pick it up for a few minutes every quarter or so to scan one or two sections to try to center myself. Other times I use it as a checklist of those little things we can do at the start of each new term that can pay big dividends for our students.
If I were a department chair, this would be a welcome gift to each new hire. If I taught education majors, this would be required reading. In either of those situations though, it would be a brief introduction and overview. It is in no way a comprehensive training manual for teachers, and it never claims to be. Consider this book about 12 minutes of a 12+ hour conversation that any new teacher should get. Unfortunately, 12 minutes is often all many new teachers get. If that's the case at your institution, make sure your new teachers get this book.
The first sentence of the book is "Welcome to your first year of teaching." The attitudinal contrast to Erika Falk's "Becoming a New Instructor" (which I've also read and reviewed on Amazon) is immediately evident:
- The instructor's joy clearly comes through: in the exhortations to not give up, to view the experience of teaching a course as an opportunity to bond with your students over an experience you have together, etc. He assumes that you are looking forward to teaching and even warns you about a few things that you should not allow to damp your enthusiasm. He even supports the idea of a live lecture over watching recorded ones, firm in his belief that the lecturer's engagement and persona do matter to the students, and that it's hard for those to come across as well on a recording.
- Where "Becoming…" has an "interesting element" (callout box, checklist, figure, etc.) on almost every page, this book is straight text. Readable and informal, but the structure here is apparent only at the chapter/topic level ("Understanding yourself as a teacher", "Lecturing", etc.) This is a leisurely read with advice sprinkled throughout; "Becoming..." is a procedural how-to manual.
The impatient may therefore find themselves skimming to find the practical nuggets, as compared to Becoming…, in which every single word is associated with practical/how-to/checklist advice.
There is good advice here:
- On "understanding your students": collect "one minute feedback" from students halfway through or toward the end of class, where the students fill in 3 blanks: (a) The main point of today's class is _____ (b) What interested me most is _______ (c) What I don't understand is _______.
- On grabbing their attention at start of lecture: Open with provocative questions such as "Dropping the bomb on Hiroshima: yes or no?" (I'm trying to think of a CS equivalent: "Can you solve checkers by brute force, yes or no?")
- There is a good discussion on dealing with the sensitivities of different categories of students (ethnic or racial minorities, women, students from cultures where communication styles are very different, etc.)
- On things to do in lecture: breakout groups, "60 second essays", debate-and-vote, think-pair-share, … but these are presented almost as an aside in one table rather than in a summary format (which I prefer).
- On how to get students to come to office hours and/or get to know you ("consider holding them in a coffee shop") but it's buried in an anecdote rather than pulled out in an easy-to-refer-to list.
- On not overreacting to negative reviews from students: "Even Jesus lost one out of twelve."
All examples are drawn from nontechnical courses in which the goal is not imparting/practicing skills, but developing the students' point of view on something. E.g. observing the student's progression from "dualist" (just do what the professor says, see the world in black and white) to "relativist" (all points of view are equally valid) to "multiplicity" (some points of view are better-supported than others and perhaps more worthy of consideration). It'd be a stretch to apply this approach to, say, software development. Similarly, the examples given for "writing an effective course overview with learning outcomes" are based on course titles such as Post-colonial Literature in Africa, the Caribbean, and South Asia, even though the advice they embody is generally good advice (avoid academic jargon, don't "de-personalize" the description with bland phrases such as "this course seeks to develop…", and so on).
There is a chapter "Teaching without Perishing" on how to balance the demands of research and teaching, and indeed whether it's worth worrying about teaching for tenure purposes. The chapter laments the attitude at R-1 universities but doesn't give any particular advice on what to do.
There is one long paragraph on technology, and it seems dated and underinformed. ("College students today have come of age with PowerPoint, the Web, DVDs, and VCRs"—find me a college student who knows what a VCR is—and makes reference to a "xeroxed syllabus".) It would've been better to omit this topic entirely than to throw it this pathetic bone.
The index is brief, e.g. no entry for anxiety or nervousness or performance.
- No advice whatsoever on creating exam questions and rubrics; minimal and qualitative advice on grading written homework assignments ("Be prepared to justify each grade").
-No material on online teaching, or in general on the use of technology to support teaching.
-No advice on dealing with "problem students" (whether just ornery or having legitimate health issues)
- No advice on dealing with "stage fright" and other issues of confidence
To oversimplify, I'd give this book to someone going into the Peace Corps but Falk's book ("Becoming...") to someone going into the Army.
I really felt like the author was speaking to me in terms of the way I think. A wonderful, useful read!
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