I swear, I'm gonna face it

Jan 15 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Between grants, preparing to move the lab* and having a new student start it has been very easy to ignore the elephant in the room. Now that I have weekend plans (including a date night with my wife, who has been very tolerant of my long hours) and only a few days before classes start up again, the elephant is starting to get gassy and is becoming impossible to ignore. In my case, that elephant is the course I have to teach this semester.

As courses go, it should be incredibly straight-forward. It's a grad class with only about 6 students and it's on a topic that I find fascinating. I think this class is going to be something I really enjoy doing, but for an unknown reason I am completely paralyzed when it comes to planning for the class, now that it is right around the corner. I have a general idea of how I want to teach it, but I can't bring myself to lay out the schedule or deal with the syllabus. There is no real reason of my complete avoidance, but it is a bit daunting to have an entire course to plan from scratch. Like most people in my position, I don't have any formal teacher training and have never had to plan a course. Since I have been here I have only concentrated on research, which is entirely familiar and not the least bit scary. It's what gets me up in the morning (well, technically I get up to the screaming of our hungry alarm clock that needs a new diaper) and why I put in long hours. Teaching is the thing I always knew I would have to do, but haven't looked forward to. I am confident I will enjoy teaching, but for now it represents the great unknown. Today, however, I brought my elephant gun and it's huntin' time... after lunch.

*I got to go over to the new building again today and tour my new space. I didn't want to leave. Like yearning for a distant lover, it's constantly in my thoughts. I can't wait until I can see it again, move in with it and start a new life together. Alright, maybe that's creepy, but the space rocks.

4 responses so far

  • Professor in Training says:

    Teaching isn't something that comes naturally to most people and it takes time to develop the skill (and it IS a skill) as well a sense of how to best approach the material according to your students' abilities and interests. My initial suggestion would be to draft a tentative plan of topics for the semester and some ideas of how you want to run the classes and run them past one of your senior colleagues first. I find that students learn best when they can relate the theory to practical situations (not always easy with the dry theoretical stuff) and that, where possible, having the students drive discussions and coming up with more questions really helps with both attention and learning.

  • Ambivalent Academic says:

    Best class I ever took was a "student-directed" sort of course on a sub-field that I found very interesting. It was a small class of advanced undergrads with similar interests so this worked out very well.Basically, the instructor planned out the first month or so of class, which included some really awesome lectures (and reading assignments) on the background of the field, and the particular areas of her interest. I got the impression that planning the lectures was no sweat for her simply because they were "this is why this science is SO FUCKING COOL!" type lectures. If you're enthusiastic about the field, which it sounds like you are, maybe giving this type of lecture will seem less daunting.After the first few weeks, the syllabus transitioned to student-led discussions and journal-club style presentations on topics/papers that students thought were totally fucking cool. The instructor of course pre-approved the selected articles for appropriate course content, scientific merit, etc. but after that it was up to us (with lots of input from instructor during the discussion) - we really learned a lot and had a great time and got really fired up about the subject matter. I wouldn't try that with a big group, but for a small class like yours it might work really well.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    That's essentially the plan. The course will be largely student directed in the second part of the semester, with a heavy emphasis on the lit throughout. Like I said, it should be a lot of fun but it's still daunting.

  • Professor in Training says:

    Yep, it is daunting, particularly for a first-timer. I've been teaching for the best part of 14 years but haven't taught a class for the last 4 years because I was doing the postdoc thing, so there is still a period of adjustment there ... and the fact that I'm still unfamiliar with the US education system isn't making things much easier.You and AA both have the right idea about what could work well for your class. For a grad level class, having the students give the lectures based on topics that you want covered would also work.

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