(Each month, I write a “From the Director” column for the UBC Okanagan Centre for Teaching and Learning’s newsletter. This is from November 2017, adapted slightly for a wider audience.)
In my conversations with faculty about teaching and learning, they often mutter, “…but I have no training in how to teach.” I’ve heard this from all ranks in the research and teaching streams. It makes people avoid discussions about effective and excellent teaching because it’s hard to have those conversations without comparing everything to our own successes (and failures.)
Teaching should be exciting and invigorating, not dissatisfying or discouraging. I’d like you to know:
Being an excellent, even an effective, teacher isn’t something you’re born with or something that happens overnight. It takes time and practice to build your expertise, one small step at a time, just like every other skill you’ve learned. If you want to start making some changes, drop by your institution’s Center for Teaching.
Rest assured that if you contact your Center or drop by to visit, you will never be judged or evaluated by anyone here. We welcome all instructors, no matter the level of your expertise or your enthusiasm for teaching.
When you’re ready for a longer and more deliberate path to improving your teaching, make an appointment with someone in your Center. Meeting face-to-face with course instructors is our highest priority (and most welcome) conversation so we’ll re-arrange our schedules. We’re happy to help you figure out what’s achievable in the time you’ve got and how they can support you.
My trek from geeky highschool student to Associate Director at the Center for Teaching Development at the University of California, San Diego has definitely followed the alternative academic career path.
Never have I been on the tenure track. Never have I been able to put “Professor” on my business cards.
And because of that, I have one regret (one is enough for this post): I’ve never felt the satisfaction and pride of having a graduate student. Because that’s what professors do, to move their disciplines forward. It’s their shoulders that the grad students stand upon to see further. When I hear from colleagues about the success of their students, I feel a wave of regret.
This summer that wave was reduced to a twinge.
Part of my job at UCSD is to teach a class called The College Classroom about teaching and learning to graduate students and postdocs. Some of the graduate students become Summer Graduate Teaching Scholars (SGTSs) and teach a course in the Summer session. As part of our ongoing support, I observe each SGTS’s class 2 weeks into the 5-week marathon and give them some formative feedback.
And it was there, sitting in the back of those classes, that my wave of regret was reduced to a twinge. This summer, I witnessed first-time-ever instructors
running flawless peer instruction with clickers
drawing out students’ preconceptions and immediately integrating them into the lesson
creating a supportive learning environment where students feel free to discuss their personal, sometime quite, experiences
make every single one of the 5o students in the room feel like they have a critical contribution to make to the class
ask the perfect question to ignite a conversation that experts in the field would have
Sometimes I sat there thinking, “Seriously? How did she know to do that? Awe. Some.”
Can I take all the credit? No, of course not, no more than a supervisor can take all the credit for grad student producing a succesful thesis. But I definitely had a role to play and, man, does it feel good.
And, so, what about my circuitous trek through higher ed? No regrets.
If you find yourself on a alternative academic path or you’re approaching the fork between tenure-track and not tenure-track, get on Twitter and follow the #altac hashtag. There are many others like you struggling with the same decisions you’re making.