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August 30, 2012 / compassioninpolitics

What graduate students need to know as they move toward teaching

I think these were my 10 most difficult challenges when I started teaching:

Not knowing enough about the world my students would face (aka workplace). I think you can bring in a panel of outside speakers or assign interview-based projects to help solve this challenge. This is probably more important in the humanities and business than it is in the sciences. I think the important part here–though–is that the students can help see the learning as relevant and connected to their long term career goals and aspirations. It also helps serve as a feedback loop–and can help provide motivation for further investigation and research.
Not knowing how to teach (aka using the banking model of education). Following poor teaching models I was taught with. Part of this was assuming that the students I had would be motivated in the same way I was. I think the two best ways to do this is learning about Blooms taxonomy, Kolb’s experiential learning cycle, and the idea of project based learning. Making meaning–personal meaning with a particular concept is key to memory. The work in communities of practice and excellence is also pretty fascinating. Going back I would probably also use a scenario based or case study method as a way into class discussion to get their minds going. One way into activities can be multi-disciplinary thinking (history, business, local or national politics, overall theory discussions in the field, etc..). Scenario based learning has a way of adding story and making the issue more practical.
I didn’t know that teacher or peer feedback was such an important part of the learning process.
Not understanding how to inspire students emotionally or help them set high standards for performance.
Try to be their friend, versus being an authority (they also may be tempted to think you are an easy grader or otherwise lack authority).
Not watching models of good teaching.
Being clear on day 1 about the end goal of learning. This isn’t about memorization. Sure, I’m going to use it to get you to read the text and to learn the fundamentals–but 70% of your grade is going to be about how you use critical thinking to apply those concepts in a meaningful way.
Lack of feedback from teachers and students. When I say lack of feedback from teachers–I mean teachers who know how to teach. I could have initiated feedback from students–but didn’t. Also its not a be-all-end-all, but can be helpful to meeting their needs or for providing clarity.
Providing them examples of excellence (ie doers in the field as models and heroes). This could be for research projects or for in classroom activities. This sets the stage for focusing on experience as well as more higher order thinking tools. For instance, writing and literature classes could go far, far more into the concepts in which underlie what makes great literature, stories, essays, and writing then they do. And other fields of inquiry and thought can add to the texture and flavor of that writing in very meaningful ways.
Not being clear on the end game. My end game should have been helping them thinking and act like a profession in the field (versus memorization). For instance, a problem solving methodology or framework for dealing with X, Y, and Z specific scenarios and challenges.

Not knowing what we know now about communication, behavior change, and teaching.

Currently, I would also try to flip the classroom. Spend 60 to 90% on learning activities and assume they had read the text. But use the activities in a more direct way to engage the skills they were learning in their readings.

In terms of #2, you might spend $20 to $30 bucks on a quality textbook. You could even do a Google search on syllabii’s at top universities in education to find a text on education theory or curriculum. I also know there are a number of quality texts on adult learning methods which may prove helpful.

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