Sunday, January 20, 2013

Some Considerations for Teaching Undergrads

Now that the first few weeks of term have settled, it is perhaps a good time to briefly remind ourselves of the teaching goals we have with undergraduates. This is certainly not the easiest task, given their, and our, plural and shifting goals. But it is a rewarding task.

Foremost, like Stanley Fish, I think educators should 'Save The World On Their Own Time,' while nevertheless letting truth and evidence speak for itself. I don't think we should presume that the truth requires a designated spokesperson, but a commitment to allow it center stage does grant it the significance it deserves. 

So we should not be seeking for students to lap up what we say--for this is nothing but unjustified conviction of another form--but rather to persuade them by presenting the excellence of reasons. And we should know that not all our attempts will be successful.

As a researcher and scholar, it is my job to to bring new knowledge into the world, and disseminate it. This can cause discontent, even reactionary attitudes. But I think this should not dissuade us from these attempts.

My general goal is to encourage students to cultivate an ethical consciousness which turns on the virtues of thoughtfulness, attentiveness, and curiosity. This need not be yours, but I do advocate developing a hardy aphorism: it helps keep your teaching mindfully on track.

Further, I use nine general points as my basic internal 'checks and balances' to try achieve my general goal. In no particular order these are:

1) The formation of the student takes priority over the convenience of method, presentation style, or kind of information selected to convey the point.

2) Play the long game; consider how each student encounter advances the abstract goal you have set.

3) Be absolutely fair and impartial. Conversely, don't be punitive, and play no favorites.

4) Don't be an asshole.

5) Be generous with your time.

6) Recognize their constraints, their sociological position, life pressures, and capabilities. On this note, remember, your ability as an undergrad cannot be the benchmark. It is likely that the institution selected you to advance. The same will likely not be true of the majority of the students you teach.

7) Students give you a lot of trust, are extremely patient, and overlook many of your flaws. Don't squander their trust.

8) Be courteous at all times.

9) Lastly, don't abuse your authority or neglect your duties.