Thursday, December 15, 2005

What they don't teach you in grad school..

This time of year we have a lot of hallway talk at my school--- as in, instead of facing the mountain of grading, we stand in the hallway and talk about stuff... our students, whatever.

A lot of what we discuss comes down to a quesiton about how to teach X type of student Y thing... which is what they don't teach you in grad school.

Teaching college can be the most intense job you've ever had to learn on the fly--- The assumption is that, because you know your subject area, you must know how to teach it... just tell them everything you know and then ask them questions to see if they learned it, then grade them.

yea -- if only it were that simple.

There are several things a college prof has to figure out...

First is what to put in the course -- we all know much more than we can teach our students in a semester --- so, what to leave in, what to leave out and how much reading can we reasonably expect students to do are significant questions, for which there are no good answers.

Problem is, this is a high stakes set of decisions -- and can make or break a semester....

Teaching your own course, that you made-up from scratch, is VERY different from being a TA -- or even teaching your own section at your grad school. There you've probably used a syllabus from the time you TA'd the class to write yours... you know the basic characteristics of the student body and you have the weight of the department behind you.

None of this is true the first time you teach a section at a new school. The problems are compounded when you have to teach 5 sections in that first semester -- as the mistakes and the resulting stress are multiplied by 5 --

The second problem is how to deliver the content --A simple decision about whether or not to use PowerPoint can mak all the difference... and, add to your workload etc... and, along with this, how much of the current educational trend do you include?? We are all about "active" learning at my school -- but, trouble is that then you have to somehow not only deliver good content but develop group exercises to do that -- huh??? much of this is simple BS.. and other parts of it smell like "I don't want to lecture" --

Next you have to figure out how to asses the little buggars...

As a philosophy prof, I used to think the only way was for them to write papers. The problems with this are many..
1) If they write it, I have to read it -- 45-50 times per section. eek.
2) Many of them have very poor writing skills. They may understand the material, but cannot write about it.
3) Many of them have very poor critical thinking skills -- so, when an assignment includes criticism of the work they don't have the tools to do it.
4) Generally, they love to plagarize and paraphrase to the point that they don't even know or admit that it is wrong.
5) Papers don't allow students to share in the good work done by other students.
6) Many will decide their paper topic early and tune out a large portion of the class.

So -- I'm moving to a model of 3 tests, 1 paper and a presentation..

Next problem: writing good tests.

The issue here is one of vocabulary. Theirs is smaller than mine -- especially when it comes to philosophy. Using a simple word like "stuff" has a huge difference in connotation between regular use and philosophy use. The problem is to make the test an accurate assessment of their knowledge, the questions themselves have to be written in words they understand.

Final problem: organizing and assessing the presentation.

This semester, I had a pretty loose idea of what I wanted and most groups gave it to me. Next semester I'll have more knowledge about what I want and thus more grounds to give less than A grades.

and, none of this is covered in grad school. Hubby is in year 4 of his grad school -- his "professional development" class is all about putting together the prosepectus for his dissertation. I wonder what next semester will be?? I'm pretty sure it isn't going to be "syllabus writing, effective lectures, active learning and assessment techniques" -- which is what they'll need.

The thing is that most people with PhDs in non-science fields will end up spending most of their time teaching. Since 40-50% of the undergrads are in community colleges... they'll be teaching a lot.... I teach 15 contact hours per week, ("normal"load elsewhere is 9-12) -- I have very little time to use the research and writing skills I learned in grad school... surprise, surprise. Instead, I use the self-taught teaching skills I learned as suvival skills as an adjunt in Omaha.

The problem with the way grad schools are focused is simply that most of their students don't finish (another rant, for another day..) and when they do, most of them will spend most of their time teaching and not researching. If they can't teach, then they end up spending MORE time and energy on teaching and have less for research etc... as figuring these things out on your own is hard.

Maybe i should teach for a while longer and then set up a consulting firm for other teachers... I should make some money on this stuff --


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