One of the most time-consuming (but big-impact*) responsibilities of an academic is teaching. However, graduate school training for teaching can vary. At some institutions, an academic-in-training may teach his/her own course right away. This trial by fire approach can be all-consuming for the first course preps.
At other institutions, an academic-in-training can closely observe experienced instructors and learn tricks of the trade as a teaching assistant. Serving as a (in Ivy Tower-speak) teaching fellow for a large, popular intro to sociology class, I learned how colleague David J. Frank introduced groupwork, cold-called names, and demonstrated how to apply various theoretical perspectives using a game he called “Stump the Professor.” Under the mentorship of Peter V. Marsden, I learned how to grade. Both of us scored papers independently and then compared our scores for inter-rater reliability; we then reconciled the few disparate scores after a discussion. From Richard J. Hackman, I learned how to use stories (and humor) to illustrate phenomena, as well as how to refine lesson plans and exercises.
As a professor, I still observe colleagues’ teaching, which has introduced me to techniques for teaching student teams. Meetings and conversations with colleagues are also opportunities to trade tips and troubleshoot scenarios.
Over the years, I’ve also read various books on teaching and followed discussion threads on teaching at the CHE forum. A few weeks ago, I read Dan Spalding‘s recently published second edition How to Teach Adults (creative commons licensed e-book version here, yay!). His book is an excellent guidebook to teaching, covering the gamut of how to construct lesson plans, how to deal with difficult behaviors in the classroom, and how to set up a professional identity as an educator. Drawing on his experiences teaching English as another language to immigrants, Spalding offers handy checklists and tips that can improve the teaching experience for novice and master instructors alike. For instance, the book discusses the concept of student comfort zones, and the author provides a handy metaphor for how students must “exercise” outside of class for the fullest benefit of education.
Spalding’s approach is thoughtfully provocative. To wit, he compares teaching styles with governance:
Below is a list of countries and the different types of teaching they correspond
with. Which is yours?*
North Korea: A tyrannical regime led by a distant autocrat.
Classroom: A teacher who ruthlessly enforces arbitrary rules.
Japan: A corrupt democracy where most citizens still enjoy a good standard
Classroom: A bad teacher who gives everyone an ‘A.’
Madagascar: A weak state where the people live mostly independent from
Classroom: A teacher who gives suggestions to students who are free to
take or leave them.
United States: A nominal democracy where corporate interests hold almost
Classroom: A teacher who insists they listen to students but ends up doing
whatever the administration says.
*Hopefully, your class is like none of these countries!
In his final chapter, Spalding raises the larger context of the corporatization of education. He also discusses alienation amongst students and instructors and how institutions train for certain dispositions,** followed by the call to consider the transformative possibilities of teaching.
In short, Spalding’s book systematically shares the nuts and bolts of teaching while including a critical perspective of the vocation and its associated institutions. An insightful, must-read for educators!
** Marx/Weber/your favorite theorists are sometimes not credited by the author but are recognizable.
Sadly, I could not be present at the SSS meetings, so I wrote out my comments about Jerry Jacobs’ wonderful In Defense of Disciplines. Go buy the book!
I want to start by thanking Sarah Winslow and the Southern Sociological Society for organizing this session. Jerry is a leading sociologist of higher education and his work merits sustained attention and critique. It is an honor to be allowed to participate in this event.
In a way, this is an awkward critique to write because I agree with much of what In Defense of Disciplines has to say. For example, on the basic conceptual issue of what counts as a discipline, Jerry’s definition is very close to my own feeling on the subject – disciplines are closed social fields of self-certifying intellectuals who are institutionalized in universities. In my work on the Black Studies movement, I found this approach to be very useful in that it identifies how interdisciplinary fields like Ethnic Studies are different than older fields like history or sociology. They haven’t yet achieved closure and rely on allied disciplines for personnel. I call fields like Black Studies “permanent inter-disciplines” because they can’t quite reach the status of a discipline and they don’t seem to be going anywhere.
Over the years, I have been asked by people if academia is hospitable toward minorities. Sometimes, they mean racial minorities or sexual minorities. Other times, they mean ideological minorities in the academy. Once, a student confessed to me that she believed she would be excluded due to her religion (Latter-day Saints, in that case). What all these people have correctly observed is that academia can be an unforgiving place. It’s a place where only half of doctoral students ever finish and only half of those make it into the tenure track. Many spend years working as adjuncts and never get a stable position. The basic truth of academia is that supply outstrips demand, so buyers have leeway to discriminate.
Still, unpopular opinions and people are not always doomed. Rather, it means that you can’t take things for granted. You have to be very careful about how you do things. In fact, it is not terribly hard to find cases where minority people and opinions do well. We can look at those cases and learn. In this post, I want to offer some advice for people in the unpopular position.
- First, be at peace with the fact that there will be a double standards. While complaint may sooth our feelings, bemoaning double standards is not a productive strategy.
- Second, fight from a position of strength. Example: James Coleman’s famous report went against the grain in sociology and he was hounded for years. However, he won out because he used the best possible data. In fact, that 1966 data is probably a stronger data set for studying school effects than what many use today.
- Third, do not fight from a position of weakness. Example: The Gentleman from Texas* decided to fight a contentious battle using very weak data. Result? Two sociologists (IU chair Brian Powell and alum Simon Cheng) found that the data contained serious errors. When the analysis is conducted without data errors, the original conclusions do not follow. Even if Powell and Cheng had not found rather obvious errors, The Gentleman from Texas still had to stretch the data to reach his result. I would not stake my personal reputation on such data.
- Fourth, cultivate a reputation for mainstream excellence. I have often noticed that people who succeed from unpopular positions are also known as people who have really mastered the mainstream of their discipline. Example: Gary Becker. The original econo-troll said more than enough to ruffle feathers, but no one could question his mastery of traditional economics. You need “street cred.”
- Fifth, be nice. You will need lots of help to succeed. If you are in an unpopular position, you will need even more than the average. Don’t alienate people with rude behavior. These people will help you later in life. A related point – be useful. If you volunteer in the lab, on the journal board, or in other ways, people will like you and help you back.
- Sixth, don’t hide, but don’t be a flagpole for the freak show. This is a subtle point. Often, people think there is a dichotomy between the “closet” and “flaming.” That is false. There is lots of space in between. You will be surprised. “Fly causal” and they may lower the shield.
Bottom line: Academia is tough on unpopular people. Be smart, be nice, and you may live to tell the tale.
* Sorry, I can’t write his name because it automatically attracts this insane commenter who once emailed me to tell me that I was responsible for the murder of LBGT people in the Ukraine.
Hi all, I’m Ellen Berrey. I’ll be guest blogging over the next few weeks about inequality, culture, race, organizations, law, and multi-case ethnography. Thanks for the invite, Katherine, and the warm welcomes! Here’s what I’m all about: I’m an assistant professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo-SUNY and an affiliated scholar of the American Bar Foundation. I received my PhD from Northwestern in 2008. This fall, I jet off from the Midwest to join the faculty of the University of Denver (well, I’m actually going to drive the fading 2003 Toyota I inherited from my mom).
As a critical cultural sociologist, I study organizational, political, and legal efforts to address inequality. My new book, The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice (University of Chicago Press), is officially out next Monday (yay!). I’ll dive into that in future posts, for sure. I’m writing up another book on employment discrimination litigation with Robert Nelson and Laura Beth Nielsen, Rights on Trial: Employment Civil Rights in Work and in Court. These and my articles and other projects explore organizational symbolic politics, affirmative action in college admissions (also here and here), affirmative action activism (and here), corporate diversity management, fairness in discrimination litigation, discrimination law and inequality (and here), gentrification politics, and benefit corporations.
I’ll kick off today with some thoughts about a theme that I’ve been exploring for many years:
How can powerful, elite-led organizations advance broad progressive causes like social justice or environmental protection? I’m not just referring to self-identified activists but also corporations, universities, community agencies, foundations, churches, and the like. Various arms of the state, too, are supposed to forward social causes by, say, ending discrimination at work or alleviating poverty. To what extent can organizational decision-makers create positive social change through discrete initiatives and policies—or do they mostly just create the appearance of effective action? Time and again, perhaps inevitably, top-down efforts to address social problems end up creating new problems for those they supposedly serve.
To the point: Have you come across great research that examines how organizations can bring about greater equality and engages organizational theory?
I think this topic is especially important for those of us who study organizations and inequality. We typically focus on the harms that organizations cause. We know, for example, that employers perpetuate racial, class, and gender hierarchies within their own ranks through their hiring and promotion strategies. I believe we could move the field forward if we also could point to effective, even inspiring ways in which organizations mitigate inequities. I have in mind here research that goes beyond applied evaluations and that resists the Polly Anna-ish temptation to sing the praises of corporations. Critical research sometimes asks these questions, but it often seems to primarily look for (and find) wrongdoing. Simplistically, I think of this imperative in terms of looking, at once, at the good and bad of what organizations are achieving. Alexandra Kalev, Frank Dobbin, and Erin Kelly’s much-cited American Sociological Review article on diversity management programs is one exemplar. There is room for other approaches, as well, including those that foreground power and meaning making. Together with the relational turn in the study of organizational inequality, this is a promising frontier to explore.
More soon. Looking forward to the conversation.
Raj Ghoshal (www.rajghoshal.com) is an assistant professor of sociology at Goucher College. Claire Whitlinger (www.clairewhitlinger.com) is a graduate student in sociology at Michigan, starting as an assistant professor at Furman University in August. This guest post discusses racial violence and the sociology of collective memory.
In a new special issue of Race & Justice (http://raj.sagepub.com/content/current) on the legacies of past racial violence, we each consider how commemorative projects can impact present-day views and events. As we discuss broad cultural processes, our articles may be of interest to cultural sociologists generally.
In “What Does Remembering Racial Violence Do?” (http://raj.sagepub.com/content/5/2/168.abstract), I (Raj) consider the Greensboro, North Carolina’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a private group which in the early 2000s revisited the 1979 killings of five communist demonstrators by the Ku Klux Klan. I draw on a survey of 716 North Carolinians and find that the Commission’s efforts had some, albeit modest, impact on stated support for state redress of past racial injustice toward African Americans. But despite this overall effect, two factors shaped the Commission’s effectiveness in surprising ways.