Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A few notes on teaching, and surviving the process

It can be fun to rate your students on what I call the "Algernon Scale": try to see where they fit in the rise and fall of the protagonist in "Flowers for Algernon".

The key to not going bonkers in the teaching, especially if you're some sort of scholarly person, is to view the content prep as a way of protecting and presenting your subject area - focus on the content. Teach to those who engage the content (or attempt to do so in good faith), and for the rest, ... whatever.

Don't expect your students to care too much for your content, especially in the lower division and core/service courses. Expect a modicum of intellectual indifference even in your upper div/major classes from some students. A benefit of teaching upper div/major courses isn't necessarily better students, but wider latitude in actually teaching your content in a more aggressive form, and more leeway in actually assessing performance more ... honestly.

A key to survival as an adjunct is to minimally piss off your Assistant Chair and Chair - give your Chair little in the way of external surprises, and give your AC little in the way of day-to-day noise. When something does pop up, it's better to document and anticipate.

Transparency is a fantastic defense against 'flakery, especially on tests. I actually include a protocol on the actual tests.


  1. Really good advice.

  2. that is splendid advice. I HATE when I feel "disappointed" that my students don't get as charged up as I do about my field...but that's a little silly, if not egotistical.

    when it happens, I just think, "sell the field like it means something, like it matters." people who dig it will come on board and become majors....

    the rest at least get some "flava" of it.

  3. I hate to tell you, but plenty of my students rate with Algernon, the dead mouse (after he lost the ability to run the maze, of course).

  4. Love the advice on adjuncts. A noisy adjunct often goes missing.

  5. The one and only place that I manage to STFU regularly is...Second String U., where I am an Adjunct of Note because, apparently, I quietly do my job.

    Also...I try very hard to emphasize to my students that my discipline is about TOOLS, and about looking at the world in a particular way. You can disagree about the minutae (although, please, don't tell me the earth is 6,000 years old), but try and use the tools when I ask you to do so.

  6. The same goes for "We're all in this together" and the "Open Door Managers" ... typically, this is simply a behavioral IQ test for employees. For them, it's frequently a matter of targets marking themselves for acquisition.

  7. A wise older colleague gave me this advice for early in the tenure track: "Sit" on committees. Don't do anything and certainly don't volunteer to do anything, but do show up and sit there.

    To this I will add how I often get through dept. and committee meetings: bet with myself how long it will take Prof. X, Y, or Z to --
    - interrupt someone
    - speak off-topic
    - repeat his/her earlier comment, prefaced by "Well, I just think that . . . "
    - start grading papers
    - pronounce a word with affected elocution
    - put someone down while smiling broadly

    It's more fun to play this with a friend, but then we run the risk of laughing out loud.


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