Information Sheet # 147

October 26, 2004

TEACHING PARTNERS IN SPRING GREEN, SUMMER 2004

[In June 2004, 14 Coe faculty and several spouses spent three days in a Teaching Partners Retreat at the Silver Star Lodge near Spring Green, Wisconsin. Printed below is a sample of participants' journal entries on their workshop experiences.]

The First Class Meeting: I have such amazing colleagues. Smart, creative, wise, generous with praise and suggestions. It reminded me of how fun it is to be in a class on the first day, when you're not expected to know anything, not held accountable for knowledge, heart overflowing with hopes for learning, experiencing, meeting challenges-a little scary to know no one and to worry about making a fool of oneself. But alive to everything like on no other day in the semester. [John]

* * * * *

I came to this workshop with the hope or expectation that it will save me from myself. That is, as much as I love teaching and feel blessed to be in the profession and be at Coe . . . I paradoxically have negative feelings about my classroom teaching experience. Despite consistently good course evaluations, I find myself overwhelmed with a sense that--in my mind, at least--I am reacting defensively to students' resistance to learning. Part of that, I believe, is a self-esteem issue: I want students to think well of me as a teacher. In addition, though, I feel that my teaching is inadequate; not terrible, but not driven pedagogically as much as it is driven by the "way it's always been done" or the "safe way", in terms of me having a feeling of control. (I almost feel like Bill Clinton: I teach this way "because I can.") [Dan]

* * * * *

Critiquing and listening to faculty from other disciplines do a 10 minute class segment was very enlightening. It was interesting to watch others' style, identify their strengths and ways things could have gone smoother. I was amazed that it didn't seem to bother any of us to do this, no one seemed self conscious, but rather everyone was quite comfortable. The collegiality of sharing and giving ideas was especially helpful. I got many nice ideas for films for a new class I will be teaching and I was able to give John ideas for some books and films that deal with his interests. [Evelyn]

* * * * *

I was somewhat afraid of teaching my (new) peers and of playing the role of 'instructor' in the microteaching segments, but I found everyone to be quite supportive and helpful. My initial thought was that they would all be "master-teachers," totally prepared and organized and knowing all there was to know, so it was great to see them workshopping, trying out new things, sharing tips, putting together classes, continuing to learn, and being engaged in the process. As an incoming first-year teacher working on putting together all my syllabi and classes for the first time it was encouraging to see other people working on putting new courses together. [Marc]

* * * * *

It is surprising to me how similar our goals are for our classes, despite the diverse subject areas. All of us seem to be concerned about trying to get the student to "buy in" to the learning process. I can remember, as an undergraduate, feeling that sometimes classes interfered with my education, but never that the classes had nothing to do with why I was in college. More and more, I wonder whether some students consider classes interference with their freedom to reject authority (parents, rules, etc.) and so they are partying/ drinking as a way of demonstrating rejection of "the establishment." Maybe it's just because they can. [Linda]

* * * * *

I found it very hard to act as the observer for the microteaching exercise. Being the observer was by far the most difficult part of the process. I became so engrossed in the presentations that I "forgot to observe". My colleagues are certainly doing some interesting things in their classes. [Cal]

* * * * *

I received some very good ideas to help organize and focus my lecture better. Bob Drexler suggested for my "History of Micro" lecture that I go for the key achievements and then provide the information to fill out the topic. This will be a far cry from my current style of teaching. I prefer the straight lecture. It is what I am comfortable with and I know I can cover the content necessary. However, I know I would be happier with more group discussions, especially in my Jr/Sr level courses. How do I take all of the knowledge I have and organize it into a discussion-type system that still has the necessary content? Doing this for a science course will be a challenge, but if I hope to improve, it is something I must attempt. [Michael]

* * * * *

I've been involved in many faculty development programs aimed at developing classroom skills and practices. Before working with teaching partners, the most helpful activities were those discussions, formal and informal, about specific teaching problems: helping students write well, facilitating discussion, etc. Usually the most useful parts of these discussions were those in which teachers described strategies and assignments they used. Now I think that teaching partners probably is the most helpful activity I've participated in. I don't know precisely why the process works as well as it does, but here are some ideas.

· It is "hands-on." In our micro-teaching exercises . . . we watch each other teach and visit about what happens. As long as we successfully avoid evaluative discussion afterwards, the process produces practical results. We see ideas in action that we might be able to adapt ourselves, and we try out strategies with an extra pair of eyes to help us see how they work.
· The process is simple. With just a few steps for preparation, observation, and follow-up, it is easy to understand and carry out. . . . We aren't trying to solve the world's problems in one step. We're working with skilled teachers. We're focusing on specific questions, not "evaluating" a life's performance.
· It is collaborative and mutually beneficial. Both partners stand to learn a good deal from the process. And it is fun to work in this way with valued colleagues. . . . Even in our two short practice sessions, I learned things I will put into practice this coming term.
· In theory, the teaching partners process treats teaching as an art, not a mechanical act. Every teacher is as unique as every student. This process recognizes that a main way we learn to teach is by adapting from each other, not copying. It recognizes that each act of instruction is an artistic performance, with specific goals to be realized in a new situation with a unique group of people. [Terry]

* * * * *

I have been teaching Elementary Japanese during the spring semester. . . . several of the students intended to study in Japan the following year, and in Japan reading is an important component of all Japanese classes. Therefore . . . I had to teach reading, especially Chinese characters. There is no way to teach Chinese characters other than to memorize them. Understanding the characters helps, but in the end the students have to be able to recognize them and write them. Normally, I do not stress memorization when I teach literature. I am much more concerned with understanding and being able to explain that understanding in writing. . . . in the Elementary Japanese class I had to change the techniques I normally use. While it was true that I invented contests and told silly stories to help the students remember the Chinese characters, the bottom line was I was teaching them how to memorize. . . . I think technique always has to keep purpose in mind. Otherwise technique becomes entertainment. [Bob]

* * * * *

Why participate in Teaching Partners workshop?

· The interaction with faculty was rewarding and occurring
across disciplines in a way that rarely happens on campus.
· It was a fun way to try different teaching styles in a "friendly" environment
· An easy way to get some feedback and generate new activities for courses. [Maria]

* * * * *

Rethinking my approach to Day One was a great exercise. First impressions are as important in the classroom as they are in other situations. While I think I have been doing a pretty good job with the initial sessions, I certainly had become complacent about my approach. I now have several new ideas to try. As the saying goes, we are never to old to learn. [Cal]

* * * * *

In trying to determine my strengths and weaknesses in a classroom, I find a certain muddiness overlays my thinking. . . . I think where I excel as a teacher and where I fail are connected to the peculiarities of my discipline. Entertaining students comes easy, improvising around an interaction and befriending them follows naturally - but in some ways this also serves to set me up as a traitor when it comes to demanding the discipline that is required of both theatre scholars and practitioners. The tension at play in this dynamic gives me a bit of the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde bipolarity. I care very deeply about the effect I have (or don't have) on my students. Again, I see this as both a plus and a minus. It makes me attentive to their needs and concerns - it makes me respectful of their differences and very aware of the power differential in our respective roles - but it also makes me hope for too much and work too hard to achieve it. [Dennis]

* * * * *

I hate microteaching. I hate all these friggin' workshops. Every time I participate in one of these developmental programs, my enthusiasm and self-perceived creativity regarding teaching seems to increase exponentially. Wonderful? NOT! Not only do all these ideas and this enthusiasm lead to more work, but they engender a heightened sense of expectation for successful learning experiences in the coming school year, dooming me to disappointment. . . . During my stint as a microteaching observer, I gained an appreciation for how truly difficult it is to be a good observer. . . . as a participant, I developed an increased appreciation for my colleagues' subject areas as well as their teaching abilities and the challenges they encounter. In particular, I found Dennis's ten-minute slice on "movement" gave me a new perspective on theatre that I frequently considered while watching APT's play London Assurance Wednesday night. [Dan]

* * * * *

Microteaching is a great opportunity to play student again--something I enjoy immensely. Isn't that why I became a college professor? I think I like learning more than teaching; maybe that's why I tend to prefer open-ended activities like discussion in my classrooms-I'm hoping I get a chance to see things in a new way. . . . Twelfth Night made me see things in a new way last night, and I really LOVED that. I like it when Shakespearian troops make small changes in emphasis to make me see the play differently. Last night, I saw Malvolio in a different way: not just as a pedantic lustful puritan, but as a human being with feelings. His entrance at the end, and the way he spoke turned the focus from laughing at the foolish person to how tricking someone can be quite hurtful. . . . that chance to see something familiar, yet strange was a great experience . . . made me think in a way that I want my students to think in my classes. [Jane]

* * * * *

Observing and reporting without evaluating was very difficult. There was a constant struggle to stay focused on the observation without trying to change the presentation in retrospect. . . . As "students" we all found the demonstrations so interesting that we couldn't sit back and not be engaged. We teach because we love to learn. [Linda]

* * * * *

What I like is owning the material, deciding what I get to learn/ research/read. I like moving around, and being physically active, because if I'm left to listen passively I'll start being disruptive. I don't have much self-understanding about being an auditory learner or a visual one. I know concrete examples help me make sense of abstract theories. . . . I'm not much interested in hearing someone deliver facts and dates in a lecture as I can assimilate these better on my own. I want analysis and dissection and reconstruction and to see startling connections and to feel myself caught in the grip of a good intellectual debate. [John]

List of Participants: Dennis Barnett, John Chaimov, Maria Dean, Barbara Drexler, Bob Drexler, Marc Falk, Debra Holzhauer,Dan Lehn, Michael Leonardo, Bob Marrs, Jane Nesmith, Cal Van Niewaal, Linda Van Niewaal.





 


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