Two things have happened recently that really reminded my why I love teaching so much.
First, I got an email from a student who took my course last term. That course was a seminar-based course in which students all had to do class presentations. So I gave them a presentation on how to give effective presentations. I admit that I had a bit of selfish motive for this – having sat through more than my fair share of horrible presentations…
… I didn’t want to have to sit through a whole term of them! But also because I thought that this would be some valuable information for them – whatever career my students go on to after graduation, skills for communicating clearly, concisely and effectively will not be wasted.
So, anyway, last week one of my students emailed me, out of the blue, to say “thanks” for giving that presentation. She said she’s already had the opportunity to apply what she learned in other classes and she wished she’d learned that in first year rather than fourth! As an instructor, I always hope that I have a lasting effect, that my student learn things from me that are practical and that they can apply outside the classroom. So it’s really nice to hear that that’s true!
The second thing happened recently after my class. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m teaching a research methods course and, when I consulted with others who’ve taught similar courses (and read a book on teaching research methods), I’d only heard doom & gloom – “the students hate it! No one wants to take research methods!” ‘How could that be?’ I thought, ‘Research methods rock!’ My belief was that if I went into the class with all the passion and enthusiasm that I have for research methods, and presented students with opportunities to learn actively (rather than passively sitting and scribbling down notes1), and made the information meaningful and relevant to them – well, how could they not like it? But as I continued to tell myself this, there was this little voice in the back of my head saying, “Why do you think you are so special? If no one else can show students how much fun research methods are, why do you think you can?” My confidence was further shaken by the first few classes of the term, in which the students sat in *complete* silence. Even when I tried to engage them in discussion, all I got was dead quiet and blank stares. Even my tried and true jokes, ones that *always* get laughs, weren’t getting laughs. In fact, the first time I got the students to crack was a couple of weeks into class, during a long, painful silence that seemed to be inevitably following any question I asked of the class and I said, “You guys are *such* a tough crowd!” And that made them laugh. And it seemed like after that, the students warmed up to me. It wasn’t like the students weren’t paying attention before that – when I eventually picked on someone to answer my question after a long and painful silence, they always had something thoughtful to contribute, it just was that they weren’t volunteering to answer (or ask) questions. Until I called them a “tough crowd.” Weird. Anyhoo, so that was a while ago, but after a recent class in which we engaged in a mock peer ethics review session, students told me that they *liked* the assignment. Liked it! They said it was really eye-opening to see how much work goes into putting together a research proposal and ethics application. So, basically, they are telling me they liked the assignment not even in spite of it being a lot of work, but because of it! We also talked a bit abou the class and gave me some feedback on what they liked about the way I taught the class. Which is really nice to hear because I do things that I believe are helpful to the students, but you don’t always know that they do.
Now, I know some cynical people are thinking “sure they said they liked it, because you are going to be marking it now!” but I really don’t think that’s the case. The students seemed quite genuine in their comments. And that was really heartening for a class I kept hearing “the students are going to hate!”
1In truth, I haven’t been able to incorporate as many hands-on activities as I would have liked. Teaching a course for the first time takes an insanely long time and I’m barely keeping my head above water with reading, preparing lectures (both writing the lectures and creating slides), creating assignments/exams and marking (I have no TA! boo!) that I’m only really able to put together about one activity per 1.5 hr lecture. Hopefully I get to teach this course again because I’ll have the content more nailed down and can spend more time creating activities to illuminate the material.