Sunday, July 08, 2007

On Teaching (Part I)

As someone who has taught and wants to continue to teach, when I read things like THIS it makes me terribly sad. While I know that particular example was meant as satire, it is not without a grain of truth. Academia seems to have a love-hate relationship with teaching. At some universities there is definitely more hate than love.

While I do not have vast years of experience, I do have a good sampling of different teaching environments...as a teaching assistant, as an instructor of my peers, as a lecturer for 300 students, as an instructor of record for 7 music majors at a small Christian liberal arts institution, and as an instructor for 25 non-music majors at the same institution. I have looked upon each of these opportunities as a learning experience. I hope that this does not change even when I have tenure somewhere.

I must say, I love the seminar model. While I have witnessed many wonderful lectures, my preference is for interaction...among the students and the professor. One of the best seminars I ever had was one where the professor gave an angle to the course with which he wasn't totally familiar. While "Women in Music of the Italian Renaissance" was a topic near and dear to his heart, we investigated some feminist theory which he admitted was a "stretch" for him. In the end, I think we ALL came out of it with more than if he had merely regurgitated the same syllabus of "standards" with which he was familiar.

I'm struck at how often a TAship has very little to do with merit and everything to do with financial aid. This is a huge disservice to the students and to the TA. I happen to think I've become a pretty great teacher, but I certainly didn't start out that way. When I was given my first TAship, I didn't even know what a TA was! I had never had a TA in undergrad. And there I was, expected to guide students who, in some cases, were merely a year behind me. I understand that first year TAships can't exactly be based on experience, so I'd revise my statement to say that continued TAships should be merit based. And merit? What does that mean?

The "merit" of teaching
Here are my top 5 indications of good teaching:

1. Never claiming perfection (but no self-deprecation either)
2. Willingness to learn
3. Seeing each class, no matter the subject, no matter how many times the course has been taught, as a new experience.
4. A student-centered model (as much as possible--difficult in large lecture classes).
5. A desire to teach in the first place (!) not just viewing it as an obligatory side-effect of being paid to do research.

So while it might be easy to fall into the cynicism expressed by the folks over at Rate Your Students (see first link), I'd much rather go the way of Barnet Bound.

Part II coming soon!

2 comments:

John Michael De Marco said...

Excellent post! Lots to chew on...as someone who teaches and facilitates regularly in the corporate world, I love the interactive approach. I learn so much from a collaborative environment far more immersed in journeying together than one-way lecturing. Look foward to Part 2!

By the way, I just landed a workshop gig at a conference in San Francisco! Believe it or not, my first time to visit California...
John

Rebecca said...

Part 2 will be coming...as soon as I get an extra shipment of oxygen. :-).
San Francisco is one of the best parts of CA, so you are in for a treat!

MUSICALLY MISCELLANEOUS MAYHEM

Mostly Musicology, Teaching, and a bit of Miscellanea