Wednesday, June 18, 2008

when should we learn how to teach?

Since lining up a job I've been attending various workshops on teaching, research, and random professional development. These vary from programs directed at graduate students to those directed at faculty members, and while they're all helpful to some extent I find the latter much more useful and educational. However, as a pre-faculty member I find myself absorbing a lot and contributing very little, and I have to wonder whether I would have been better served (and a better participant) if I had waited until AFTER my first teaching year before I attended larger-scale professional workshops.

Other people commented that they wish they had done workshops earlier...before their third or fourth year on faculty. So when is the best time? Am I doing it right, getting the workshops in before I ever have a chance to mess with younger minds? Or would I have more to learn if I had already spent a year teaching and knew some of what I had done wrong the first time?

I'm not sorry I went early, but I'm not sure what I would suggest to a peer if they asked me whether they should do the same.


j.l. said...

I was very frustrated in all of my interviewing to be asked such direct and specific questions about my pedagogy (including, more than once, being asked to give 20-45 minute talks on my teaching). It didn't make logical sense to me that they would be hiring me for an assistant professorship, knowing that my experience was limited, and yet wanting me to speak confidently about my experience. I look forward to gaining more of that experience in the years to come, and I know that I'm making mistakes now, out of naiveté!

Eric Reuter said...

Personally, I find it ridiculous that PhD students are given no training in educational theory or method, although most of them are intended to become teachers. Parents would flip out if a local high school hired a teacher without any educational training or experience, yet have no problem paying tens of thousands of dollars for professors that have no clue what they're doing.

I found my masters program in education fascinating and very helpful; back when I was still planning to be an academic, it was incredibly useful to rub shoulders with real teachers and learn about the science and theory of education. Kindergarten teachers have recieved more training and understanding in how the human mind learns than most college professors.

I would find a way to talk with or learn from classroom teachers at the high school level. They know a lot more than most professors about educational practice, and the fundamental theories, methods, research, and concepts are quite applicable to college, especially at the SLAC level. I would also strongly recommend subscribing to one of the various journals aimed at college educators, such as the Journal of Geoscience Education.

These journals are chock full of ideas, concepts, suggestions, and so on that are a real boon to young professors.