Hi! Eat the Yolk is surfacing... to talk about teaching! My colleague over at bayanprofessor.blogspot.com encouraged me to participate in a Reflective Teaching Blogging Challenge for the month of September. It being a little crazy around here I am already behind, but I am committed to seeing this through as best I can, so here goes!
The first prompt asks us to write our goals for the school year. As this is college, and as I'll likely be gone in spring on maternity leave, I'll keep the goals to a semester. So here goes:
Goal 1: Be Fearless in the Classroom... at least once a week!
I admit it: I crave routine. Teaching is a wild and whimsical process, and I spent much of my first 8 years (or has it been longer?) trying to tame the classroom and figure out perfect lesson plans, assignments, and readings that can be eventually constructed into The Perfect Composition X class.
The thought of constructing Perfect Composition X class is a dreamy one to the woman who goes to bed at more or less the same time each night. But I also know that spontaneity and relevance are key to keeping students engaged. What is one of the ways a student can be engaged? When they see an instructor who is excited about the material. Excitement is infectious, so for me, finding that zone where the materials are familiar without being stale is key.
At least once a week I will commit to trying something new, whether it be bringing in an article on the Ferguson shootings to walk through a successful article summary and response, or playing a song as the students walk into class, or lecturing from the middle of the room instead of the front.
Goal 2: Tighten up on organization. At least a little bit.
Goal 2 might seem in conflict with goal 1, but I gotta be honest: dates and long-term planning have slipped through the cracks so far this semester. (Maybe it's the pregnancy brain.) Example: I set out to plan for my afternoon composition course. I started with the syllabus schedule, saw what was due the next class period, and worked my way back from that. The problem? I was looking at the wrong week. It wasn't until the end of class that a student politely pointed out that I was a week ahead of myself.
(Students are very forgiving about pushing assignments back. But if you ask them to do something early? Uhh, no, that's not cool. Nor is it fair to them. Gotta tighten up on this kinda stuff.)
Goal 3: Continue to work on connecting with students and making sure they feel heard.
There have been some great articles lately about the need for students to feel connected to the class and the instructor. I can't emphasize enough how much I believe in the need to really connect with students. To do so requires constant self-reflection: what went well about that encounter? What didn't go so well? Why did I feel the exchange was so great with her but not him? What biases might I have that are getting in the way?
I've found that I've gotten better feedback from students the more I learn to ask them good questions and take time for a one-on-one exchange, ideally once a week.
One idea I've incorporated into my online (or in this case, hybrid) course to build community is to give weekly "shout-outs." Yes, I give them for your eyes only feedback on their work at least once a week, but after perusing quizzes or discussion boards, I can easily copy/paste a few key ideas from students who have really got it and email them to the course as an announcement. Since it's all online, it's easy to see who I've given shout-outs to before so I can vary them.
Goals! Teaching! So exciting!