Becoming a Better Teacher: Articles for New and Not-So-New Faculty
Teaching and learning are multi-faceted phenomena—and that’s how we should be thinking about them, right from the start. Books written for beginning teachers, in fact lots of teaching books, focus on techniques. Yes, new (and old) teachers need techniques, but when that’s the main focus, it tends to narrow the thinking and trivialize the complexities.
More learning—possibly the most painful learning—happens early on (Collins), but learning to teach should be a career-long endeavor. Usually it involves change that grows out of new and evolving thinking about teaching and learning (Gonzalez).
We teach as we were taught, or as others in our department teach, or as those who taught the course before us did. Learning from others is great, but not if it is a passive acceptance that prevents us from challenging assumptions (Spence), questioning the unquestioned (Tanner), or pursuing the rationale on which a policy or practice rests (Singham). Reading in this category may or may not change our minds, but doing so challenges us to think and therein lies its value.
Writing about teaching techniques has not always been robust. That’s changed significantly in recent years, but it still feels as though there’s not much new under the pedagogical sun. Teaching techniques tend to get passed around—used so often they become old hat, failing to inspire students or teachers. What’s needed are truly innovative techniques, ones that turn teaching inside out.
In order to grow, one needs to know how—starting, I believe, with the personal narratives of others who have grown as educators. A well-written account of a teacher learning from his or her careful, critical analyses of teaching experiences can motivate a deeper level of personal reflection. But there are other approaches teachers have tried and found “growth promoting,” such as learning about teaching by writing (Purcell) or growth prompted by “student” experiences (Gregory), or insights that come from our teaching stories (Shadiow).