Posts Tagged ‘College Classes’

Ten years ago I walked into a college classroom to teach for the first time. A few minutes after that, I walked out again because I had gone to the wrong classroom. Then I walked into the correct classroom and began my teaching career. If you had asked me a few days ago, I would have said that my teaching hasn’t changed that much in the past ten years, but looking back at the materials from my first semester the gradual evolution of my teaching became much clearer.

Looking at my first syllabus (which was only six pages – maybe syllabus bloat is a real problem), I am struck by how light the workload was (in my defense, I had 70 students and we were advised not to shoot for the moon in our first courses). Attendance and participation were each 10% of the final course grade and the remaining 80% was made up of the three exams. Students could also write three short “bonus” papers for up to 3% of their final grade, but these were the only writing assignments. About half of the students completed the first and about 60% completed the final one. I was apparently very lenient with these because most students received between .9 and 1 (out of 1). The average final course grade was a B.

Without looking at the roster, I can remember only three students’ names from that semester, one of whom I labeled “squirrely looking” on my roster (he earned an A), one of whom later died of cancer, and one of whom was friends with the student who later died of cancer. Even looking at the roster I can only picture a few more. What I do remember is walking across a stage at the front of the room every time I wanted to change the PowerPoint slide and then waiting for students to write down a definition that I had displayed (I didn’t use a textbook but had not yet discovered guided notes). I also remember feeling awkward when standing on the stage because I was so far above the students and feeling awkward when standing in front of the stage because I was so close to the students.

Although I felt fairly comfortable at the time, in retrospect I did a terrible job of getting students to participate in class discussions, which was noted on my evaluations. One student also noted that I seemed nervous a lot of the time. Another commented that by making them copy vocabulary words I was treating them like they were in seventh grade. The student then drew a frowny face, demonstrating that I may have been aiming at the right level after all!

Ten years later, preparing to start teaching at my fourth institution (including grad school and a small commuter college I taught at for a few semesters back then) it is nice to see that things have progressed. Given my emphasis on teaching as a grad student, I think that the biggest changes have been more about refining my approach than adapting to new institutional settings. At this point, I’m glad that my oscillations between different approaches for things like class participation and attendance have gotten much smaller. While small refinements may not seem as exciting as big changes from one semester to the next, it is nice to have gotten to a point with fewer glaring errors. I’m excited to see what changes the next ten years will bring.

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Last semester was possibly my most frustrating as an instructor, given that two of my courses had lower-than-normal levels of class participation. Having finally received my student evaluations from the fall, it appears that my frustration was felt by at least a few of my students. Numerically, my evaluations were similar to other semesters. Qualitatively, though, it appears that a higher number of students who would have normally left the comments section blank were compelled to complain. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Very negative attitude towards teaching. Often made rude comments to students for no reason… Terrible class, terrible professor.”

“Dr. Smith tends to be rude and misunderstanding towards his students. It would be appreciated that he shows his students the respect he demands as a professor. He doesn’t relate well to college life and all that it entails.”

“he is a good teacher but he is kind of mean sometimes & comes off indifferent to helping.”

“When talking to students in class or when commenting on a student’s answer to a question, it would be nice not to receive a smartass answer/comment in response.”

“Snide comments were made to multiple students and I was offended by his ego. He acts as though he is better than us simply because he has a PhD. My suggestion would be to tone down the sarcasm.”

If one looked only at the comments above, I would seem to be a terrible professor. I understand that not all students appreciate sarcasm, and that my responses were likely harsher last semester than most. Thankfully, there were also a few students who seemed to enjoy my courses. When compiling evaluations for review by others, I always follow a negative evaluation with a positive one that contradicts it. Toward this end:

“You were a great professor. You were able to relate to us but keep respect.”

“Dr. Smith needs to be less enthusiastic with his teaching and try to be more boring and even more unpredictable with grading and pop-quizzes. His energy level is far too high for someone like me and it amazes me how someone like that can become a professor (just kidding, Dr. Smith is awesome).”

“Great professor. Very knowledgeable and always willing to help.”

Thankfully for both my students and me, this semester has been much less frustrating than last.

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