Submitted by Jim Aune on December 5, 2011 - 1:08pm
A handout I made for a teachers on teaching panel at NCA. Anything else you'd add?
Jim Aune, Professor and Head of Communication, Texas A&M
"Teachers on Teaching" panel, NCA, New Orleans, 11/18/11
1. Teaching is a spiritual process. My B'racha for a new year of teaching: Praised are You, Adonai, Our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has made us holy with commandments and commanded us to engage in the study of Torah. You have told us that the study of the universe and the humans who live in it is a way to worship You. Help us to remember with Rabbi Tarfon, "It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. Yet, you are not free to desist from it. " Help us to remember with Leo Strauss: "Always imagine that there is at least one student in class who is your superior in heart and mind." Help us to remember with T.H. White: "The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn."
2. Unlearn the current cant about classrooms as "safe spaces"--classrooms should be unsafe spaces, and should equally protect academic freedom and student's free speech rights. I put the following statement on all my syllabi: Contemporary trends in higher education notwithstanding, there is no fundamental right of students not to be offended. You may hear or see things in this course that you find disturbing. I presume that students are adult citizens, not victims in need of protection.
3. Teaching is a rhetorical process--most problems I see in observing junior faculty teaching have to do with deficiencies in public speaking skills and audience adaptation.
4. Be ready to argue both sides of controversial issues--another fundamental rhetorical skill. In a "liberal" academic context, argue the "conservative" point of view. In a "conservative" academic context, argue the "liberal" point of view--but make clear that students have rights to hold their fundamental political and religious beliefs. You're better off in both contexts defending what Max Weber called "inconvenient facts" than in appearing to be an advocate of a particular perspective.
5. Be prepared to have your heart broken every day. Every generation of students has its cognitive deficiencies, prejudices, and learned incapacities. The past was never better; other universities are not better. Your current audience is just different. You're not better than them. Get over it.
6. Be a mensch--inflexible rules are for Deans and other bureaucrats. My classroom rule is: everyone gets to mess up once. Professors who ask for documentation for funerals or illness (the first time) are schmucks.
7. Learn names--students are always most surprised when I remember their names. It's a skill. Learn it, using whatever memory tricks you can learn.
8. Be efficient--turn back speech critiques, paper comments, and exams as quickly as possible (under a week). Students appreciate quick "feedback."
9. Talk about yourself occasionally—the professorial life is mysterious to students, so it helps to tell them about your college experiences (good and bad) and your family life (up to a point).
10. Your research and teaching should be seamlessly connected--there is never an excuse for not publishing or engaging in a scholarly conversation. If your research does not occasionally force you to rethink your teaching, you're doing it wrong.