junior faculty jam session #5 – basics of teaching strategy

Junior faculty jam session #1#2, #3, and #4.

University faculty have three jobs: research, teaching, and service. This installment will cover the second task in the list – teaching. There are a few basic rules that you must understand about the role of teaching in your career and how to do it effectively.

First, there is the “iron rule” of teaching. Every single university instructor, from humble adjunct to endowed chair, must actually teach. You may do it badly. You might have your TA sub for you here and there. But you must show up, even if you do so grudgingly. If you stop showing up, you will get fired, even if you are tenured.

Why? The “frontline” job of the university is to teach, not research. It is literally in your contract. Now, mind you, your contract doesn’t say how you have to do it. Nor does it say that you have to do it particularly well. But you have to do it because that is literally what students have paid for.

Second, I truly believe that you should try to be an effective teacher. Even if research is your passion, you owe it to your students and yourself to be do well in class. The students have paid for it. Or their parents have paid for it, or maybe the taxpayers paid for it. In any case, a lot of people want you to try hard. Also, don’t embarrass yourself and your discipline. Make your class a place where your discipline looks good.

Third, effective teaching isn’t that hard to do. Most of the time, all you need to do is write an outline of what you need to cover for the class and come up with a reasonable set of tests and exercises. And by reasonable, I mean try to teach to the class. E.g., if you are working at an open admissions school, you don’t need your math class to be pitched at aspiring scientists and engineers.

Fourth, don’t “over teach.” In other words, once you figure out the basics, don’t spend a whole lot of extra time on teaching. Why? A few reasons. If you want to move to a new school, or be promoted, research is usually more valued. You get paid to teach, but promoted for research. Another reason is that many students don’t notice and don’t care about all that extra time you spent on teaching. Rather, most people want to get the basics and they want to be treated fairly.

Fifth, good teaching is usually about nuts and bolts. Before you try the fanciest methods, or trendiest topics, start with the basic ideas that motivate your discipline and the skills that students need in that discipline. In class, always put on a smile and be professional. Students also want a good class room environment. That means be nice to all students, even annoying ones, and making sure that assignments are returned in a reasonable amount of time. It also means good class room management – make sure that lots of people participate and that you fill time with meaningful tasks.

A lot of what I’ve written is intuitive. But you’d be surprised at how many unprepared and disorganized instructors you find. You also find a lot of disillusioned teachers as well. You may love the class room, or treat it as a nuisance, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be good at your job.



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Written by fabiorojas

August 19, 2019 at 12:48 am

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