Teaching is hard. Since returning from maternity leave in January I have taught and will teach eleven courses, ten are new this year and all are outside of my area of specialty. I love working with students, but sometimes it can be draining. The students are becoming increasingly diverse, with a wide range of academic abilities. Sometimes I struggle to meet their needs.
Yes, teaching is hard and sometimes it can be frustrating. And despite the annoying emails, or challenging moments, sometimes we need to remember where students are coming from. Last week I read an article on Active History, that was a good reminder. Elise Chenier, deals with students similar to mine. They are “largely from lower to middle-income families and attended a public school in the surrounding region. Many hold down one or more part-time jobs, and often are responsible for the care of family members, and sometimes have children of their own.” I too went to Queen’s and art history has to be one of the snobbiest disciplines. Chenier provided food for thought.
She observes how in thinking about her own professional practices she has:
become particularly attuned to how learning requires us to voluntarily enter a state of vulnerability. We must be willing to risk venturing beyond our certainties; to be confused, disoriented, and uncomfortable; to suffer the humiliation of offering a potentially wrong answer in front of our peers and instructors.
The more we make vulnerability possible, the more likely deep and transformative learning will happen. We can do this by reducing the risks (be aware of how little it takes for a person to feel the shame of another’s judgment; avoid the temptation to admonish) and increasing the supports (encourage rather than judge; query and listen rather than assess; be honest about when we have struggled and perhaps failed, and when we don’t know the answers). This is not a new requirement for a “snowflake” generation. It is simply good teaching.
Chenier ends her piece with these lines that have now become my favourite quote about teaching. Next time I am frustrated and don’t know where to begin I must remember:
You start where your students are. You start by letting go of your idea of who you are and cultivating a curiosity about who they are. You start by making yourself smaller, and them bigger.
As far as we have come there is still more work to do. Victoria Siddall director of Frieze Art Fairs, explains, “In the contemporary art world, there are so many women in senior positions that you can be lulled into thinking that there’s no imbalance, and that it’s not an issue any more. You could think job done, but the reality is that there’s some way to go.”
William Hogarth, Scholars at a Lecture (1736)
Audiences outside academia clearly understand the benefits of collective listening. If public lectures did not draw sizable crowds, then museums, universities, bookstores, and community centers would have abandoned them long ago. The public knows that, far from being outdated, lectures can be rousing, profound, and even fun.
In her article entitled, “In Defense of the Lecture,” Miya Tokumitsu argues we should “remember the benefits of collective listening.”
For more read the entire piece here:
Alex Small also wrote a great article on lecturing for The Chronicle of Higher Education:
Pieter Isaacs, Knight Academy Lecture (Rosenborg Palace) (1620s)
With so much discussion of active learning, flipped classrooms, and so on, lecturing often gets a bad reputation. And as much as I am interested in activities, and hands on approaches I am also interested in improving my lecturing for those times when it really can contribute to learning.
Some of my most deeply transformational learning moments have come during lectures. I remember crying silently in the dark lecture hall, as one professor gave a particularly moving talk about Käthe Kollwitz’s heart-wrenching prints depicting her anguish after loosing her son Peter in the First World War. Another professor’s passionate descriptions of every nook and cranny of the canals of Venice and the jewel-toned paintings that decorated the city’s scole walls, inspired me to be an art historian.
In The Skillfull Teacher, Stephen D. Brookfield provides five reasons for including lectures as an element in your teaching:
- To provide an outline for a body of material
- To explain difficult concepts
- To provide new perspectives and interpretations
- To model intellectual attitudes and behaviours
- To spark interest in a topic
Brookfield explains, when done well, lecturing, “can provide students with a solid foundation of understanding that can then be extended or critiqued in discussions and assignments” (p. 82). This is definitely something for me to consider!
Brookfield, S. (2006). The skillful teacher: On trust, technique and responsiveness in the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Earlier this summer, The College of the North Atlantic’s Respiratory Therapy program lost its accreditation. In 2016 the Council on Accreditation for Respiratory Therapy Education placed the program on a one-year probation, and then although the college tried to address deficiencies, apparently there was not enough improvement to maintain their status. For more see this CBC article and this interview on NTV.
The 13 students accepted into the program for this fall have been refunded their money, but another 26 who have completed their first and second years are stuck. Regardless of the issues, as is often the case in post-secondary struggles it is the students that pay the price. As one student echoed, even if they are able to have their money refunded, they are still out the time and effort they have invested.
In one department I teach in, we are not externally accredited per se, but because each course is university transferable, routinely each PSI in the province, reviews the outline and learning objectives to determine if it will be transferable and if so what the equivalent course or number of credits it will be. Maintaining standards is important not only for an institutions reputation but also for how we value our students. I think often PSI’s forget that they are or should be in the service of students.
What a couple of weeks! It is back to school time, my favourite time of year! A brand new start with new and returning students.
The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of meetings, orientations, and classes. This semester should be interesting as I am teaching two classes, outside of my specialty in addition to another brand new course, and don’t forget all the admin work. I am looking forward to experimenting with some of the techniques I learned in the Instructional Skills Workshop and of course my PIDP Professional Practices module.
Let the games begin!