Monday, November 16, 2015

"Old School" Conversion--Roll On

Natural, intuitive teachers are the easiest ones to learn from. They seem to watch for feedback from their students and clarify topics as they go, based upon facial expressions. In other words, they want their students to learn. They do not say, “How am I going to fill up this hour with talk?” Rather, they say, “What do I want my students to learn this hour?”
I came through the “old school” ranks as I prepared for my career as college English professor. What I mean by that is not hard to explain. The scholars I admired both as an undergraduate and in graduate school opined that the best preparation was immersion into the subject matter with no thought for how to teach it. My undergraduate advisors explained it further: “If you love your subject and truly care for students, you will do well in college teaching.” As one who deeply admired and wanted to emulate my mentors, I bought that ostensible truism hook, line and sinker, readily adopting the English professors’ disdain for the practices over in the School of Education.
So, I had to figure out the teaching gig for myself, usually modeling my presentations on what I had experienced in the classroom—often unorganized banter about the reading for the day. (That banter is not always bad, of course). I had never heard of student evaluations of teaching until around my 10th year in the profession. May I humbly and modestly report that I did quite well on the forms the students turned in, often all fives with five being the highest, but there was one persistent four, sometimes even as low as three. That was in the area of “makes assignments clear.” So, with stung and bruised ego, I started reading books on teaching: God on the Quad and The Courage to Teach were two of the best. As a result, I started writing out assignments on the board in great detail, burning up about 15 minutes of class time in the process. If the project was complex, I would provide and go over a handout with detailed steps in completing it, with due dates, research guidelines and so on.
Later, when I was teaching History of English Language and Grammar at Texas A&M in Texarkana, I added another step to the practice of clearly stating the assignment: the enumeration of topics for the current class session on the board. I checked off each topic as we covered it. The education department there at A&M required that course I was teaching of their students preparing to teach and I had a passel of those in there.

One such student stayed behind after class one day and asked me how long I had been “utilizing” the goals and outcome based method of teaching. I confessed I was not familiar with the term, but that student evaluations had led me to modifying my “old school” style of English teaching to one more systematic in nature. To my surprise, the education student told me mine was a textbook example of current education practices. My conclusion is that I could have saved myself a lot of trial and error by having an education course or two back in my undergraduate years. Listen…I think I hear some “old school” English professors rolling in their graves.

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