Some teaching observations after this semester

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

I’m at my parents’ house in a small town in Minnesota currently, so I feel a little lazy, though I have my syllabi mostly done for spring (NDSU syllabus is finished, UMC probably needs some touch ups, but the important information is all there). I have also been reading novels and watching cable TV, though I am also relearning why I do not have cable TV. But in the spirit of some semblance of productivity, or at least reflection, I will share what I learned as a teacher this semester.

1. If I am emailed a document that I cannot open, I should just call it a nondocument or a nonentity and not give the student credit for it. I say this now because I had a student this semester who I am pretty sure purposely sent me documents she knew I would not be able to open. (Her peer group members had the same problem with her assignments.) I would always tell her “please give me a hard copy” but she seldom did this. Thus, I have a new syllabus policy regarding this. (P.S. I am probably going to GoogleDocs in the fall. I am going to talk to people who are starting this in the spring before I leap into GoogleDocs.)

2. Phy-Ed majors can also be good writers and good students, despite what I have observed in the past fairly consistently. My Phy-Ed students this past semester were quite a joy to have in class. They always had good questions and comments and most of them turned in fairly good assignments. Most of them. Anyway, I learned my lesson and won’t generalize about Phy-Ed majors anymore. (I know. I was totally surprised, too. But they seemed to like my teaching style and how I poked a little fun at them at the start of the semester by saying “I know some people dislike writing classes, like Phy-Ed Majors, but I hope by the end of the semester you at least have an appreciation for writing” and looked in their direction, so they took to the challenge of a writing class  well enough. I would like to think that comment sparked it as if it were a challenge and maybe it was.)

3. TED Talks are great for opening up discussions in class. Students also really like them. They seem to be constantly surprised by them, just as how I am. I think I showed two or three TED Talks this semester and when I read course reflections, many students talked about these videos and how the ideas challenged them.

4. Students will like writing if you show how enthusiastic you are about writing. I would tell them about papers I was working on or other writing I was doing in class or plans for my dissertation to show them what a big nerd I am. At first they kept asking why, why do you like this? Then when they were working on their final projects, they talked about how much they actually liked writing them because they were interested in the topic or topics. It was pretty cool to see that turn around and no, I didn’t remind them of the things they had said earlier.

5. English majors really are not typically my best students, even though other students in the class and other people have thought this. (I consistently find this annoying and always tell my students, “no, the English majors do not all have the answer, even though you may think so. After all, though this is a class in the English department, this is also writing in the humanities AND social sciences, not “writing for English majors”.)  I am not going to say anything further about this because when I let my mouth run, that is usually when I get in trouble. But I did have an English major this semester who did very well and who will also be on the Ireland trip with me this summer.

6. Never think you will never see your students again. I have had past students in my own classes, will have one of them travel abroad with me, and so on and so forth. I don’t mind this, but I think they are weirded out by it and then I feel bad as a result. I’m midwestern like that and even if circumstances are beyond my control, I still partially blame myself. Usually it always turns out well, even though at first it does seem a little odd to everyone involved.

7. Students will comment about how much they enjoy scholarly essays if you make them read scholarly essays in their field. (Forum Analysis assignment was actually a hit, though they all admitted to me that they hated the idea at first. Isn’t that funny—they always hate it at first. I always tell them that starting a project is the hardest part of a project.)

The semester, as always, was a positive experience despite having a class that I felt hated me. As I look back on it, I don’t believe they really hated me. I think they were stressed out about classes since they would often come to class and talk about how stressed they were over exams, papers, and other projects. So perhaps they reacted the way they did because of stress, but I can only speculate at this point. After teaching for only five years, there is a lot of ground I still have to cover, but that is why I enjoy teaching so much—it is a constant learning experience.


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