My teaching philosophy leads with Parker Palmer’s sage observation about the nature of effective teaching:
I’m amazed by the fact that good teachers use a million different techniques. Good teaching isn’t about technique. I’ve asked students around the country to describe their good teachers to me. Some of them describe people who lecture all the time, some of them describe people who do little other than group process, others describe everything in between.
But all of them talk about people who have some sort of connective capacity, who somehow connect the students and the subject being studied and the students to each other.
One young woman told me she couldn’t possibly describe her good teachers because they were all so different from each other, but she could easily describe her bad teachers because they were all the same.
I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “With my bad teachers, their words float somewhere in front of their faces like the balloon speech in cartoons.”
I thought this was an extraordinary image, and I said, “Do you mean that somehow with bad teaching, there is a disconnect between the stuff being taught and the self who is teaching it?” And she said, “Absolutely.”
Connection teaches; without connection, I believe we become content feeds that our students might as well minimize in their browsers while keeping an eye on Facebook. Technology and the rise of distance learning present teachers with an urgent, daily question: what can only happen here, in the real time and space of a classroom community? Connection – between students and instructors, between students and each other, between students and their own deepest selves – is my best answer. Nurturing its possibility is both a pedagogical and curricular matter.
Whatever else we teach, I am convinced that we must show our students a daily, authentic engagement with how connection with our subject enlivens and inspires us, how it helps us navigate our world and gives us frames within which to understand it. We re-read a familiar text before class because we need to rediscover, each time, the reason why it’s in our curriculum, this time. My pedagogy creates and values opportunities for my students to feel they are connected with me and with each other.
Finally taught an Honors seminar on teaching and learning in the work of David Foster Wallace last fall. Used Dana Goldstein’s The Teacher Wars as the backbone of my foundations teaching this fall – what a terrific book, highly recommended. Looking forward to incorporating the amazing imagination of Lynda Barry into my teaching next semester, especially as I teach “Narrative and the Caring Professions” for the fourth time in the Honors College.
Got a last-minute chance to do an Honors seminar in fall 2013 on the history of school reform (“The Audacity of Nope”), as well as more work with the wonderful Hickory and Winston-Salem Ed.D. cohorts. And currently teaching the third iteration of “Narrative and the Caring Professions.” My bread-and-butter is still with FDN 2400 students: that class is such a crucial opportunity for students to engage with the social justice and policy aspects of their work, while still holding on to their unique autobiographical stake in it. The personal is still the engine that drives practice! We ignore it at our peril.
Looking forward to a little action research project this semester: three identical, randomized sections of FDN 2400, each with a distinct mini-curriculum about avoiding burnout and sustainable practice. I hope to gain some insights into the merits and challenges of using different genres in each (philosophical considerations, short stories and poems, and a novel).
HON2515 (Narrative and the Caring Professions) is ready to start next week. Can’t wait to take this brand-new course out on the track and see what it does with twenty honors students.
My 2400 sections this semester will be focused on quality writing and public expression. I am starting to realize the potential of the iPad for marking up digital files (neu.annotate + Dragon Dictation!) and hope it will give me more powerful tools to help students strengthen their skills.
FDN 2400 – Critical Perspectives on Learning and Teaching
This semester I am teaching two sections of our required undergraduate social foundation course, which continues to be deeply satisfying. I have converted the current syllabus to a web page within the university content-management system, but it includes many of the same readings listed on last year’s Word doc, linked below. I have added a few sessions focusing on the argument and rhetoric of Waiting for Superman that I developed in my summer sessions: I think it is essential that we do normative and critical work around that film with our pre-service teachers.
I have also adjusted writing expectations away from the papers I assigned last year. Instead, I am having all my students maintain WordPress blogs this semester as a step toward cultivating the awareness of public voice that is such an important outcome of courses like mine (more on the blogs in the EDL syllabus below). I am also grateful to have the collaboration of University Documentary Film Services in helping students who choose to prepare short films on urgent NC education policy topics as their final presentations this semester.
JANUARY 2012 UPDATE: Here are links to the four films they produced. Great work!
- ESL in North Carolina: Is It Enough?
- Testing our Teachers
- Why Americans think their local schools are great but America’s schools are failing
- Is Competition Good for Students?
EDL 7011 – Multidisciplinary Seminar on Emerging Issues
I am also leading a seminar this semester with our first Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership cohort in Forsyth County. This course starts from the management commonplace that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” and makes a critical exploration of role of quantification in our present educational moment. This class will be terrific. And they are blogging too!
Finally, I learned last semester that I’ll get to teach an undergraduate seminar in Literature and Medicine for the University’s Minor in Medical Humanities this spring. That will be a blast – looking forward to getting started with that preparation.