Here’s my second post covering the ideas of teaching mistakes from the this article. You can find Part 1 here, where I talked about the ideas behind this post and detailed the ones that I agreed with.
In this post, I wanted to note the ones that I feel are either misguided, incorrect, or just do not work for me. In a list of the 67 worst teaching mistakes as posted by actual instructors, there are going to be a lot of general ideas that work and specific advice that people have that works for them but is not applicable in the broader sense. Most of what I have here fall into the latter category, as in something that one person has discovered that they think is a truth, while it, in reality, is really only relevant to very specific circumstances. The other big category are the overly broad pieces of advice. We have all fallen into that category before, someone asks for you opinion on something, and you give them a general statement. Then, it’s published somewhere, and you think to yourself that you should have said something more specific. Or, maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, without further ado, here are the ones that I think are misses from the list:
1. Lacking professional variety – I wish we all had this choice. Where I teach, I am allowed to teach two classes. So, I teach them over and over. It would be nice to follow this advice, but some of us have no choice.
5. Failing to see the influence of Cultural Imperialism – OK, so this made me throw up in my mouth a little. I can absolutely see exactly who this person is, as I knew many in graduate school. They are so tied up into theory and the like that they have forgotten how to just teach students. They are so concerned with having all of the latest things at their disposal that they lose track of what they are doing. What’s more, they lose track completely of how to teach undergraduates, who could care less about all of this.
15. Making a course so easy that almost no learning takes place – This one is not bad at all, but the type of people who would do this are not going to be reading a post about teaching or ever think about reading about education, pedagogy, or the like. They care so little anyway that this advice is useless.
25. Not knowing every student’s name by the second week of class – OK. I fail at this every semester. I teach 80 students in class and 120 online every semester and 90 students online every summer. I wish my brain worked to where I could remember them, but not all of us work this way. I have never had a student complain about this, and I am not sure how relevant it is.
34. Adopting a new strategy just because it is popular, or everybody is doing it, without thinking it through as to whether you really are committed to that strategy – This one is so general as to be dangerous. The idea is not bad, but it also can lead to never changing at all. I see more people in academia who are convinced they know it all and always do things the same way no matter what more than I see people who fail at this I would like to see more people take chances and do something new, even if it happens to be popular rather than having people still lecturing from the same notes they copied from their professors in grad school.
35. Making a hard and fast deadline for every major assignment and allowing no make-up or extra-credit alternatives to meeting course objectives – Honestly, it was this one that inspired me to divide this post into two parts. I mean, come on. If you have no deadlines and no consequences, what is the purpose of teaching? I see this attitude that there should never be any consequences in the education my kids are getting now. They can turn in anything, anywhere, at any time, and with no consequences. If all we want is for everyone to complete with an A, then why not let this happen. But, when students get out into the real world, they are going to find that there are deadlines, and that there are consequences for not meeting them. By being infinitely flexible, you are setting them up to expect that in everything. The “get things done when you can” attitude is a killer in real life. I have strict deadlines with no make up and minimal extra credit. However, I am not blind to the fact that students do lead busy lives, especially for nontraditional students. What I do then is have everything open for multiple days and have a syllabus that is laid out clearly from the beginning so that they have plenty of time to finish the material and can plan ahead.
37. Ignoring the Affective Domain – Again, I might gag a bit here.
59. Destroying the students’ inborn, natural desire to learn through competition and grades – Ahh . . . to be young and idealistic. Oh wait, the person who wrote this is retired. So, yeah, no grades would be nice, except then how do you decide who succeeds and who fails? Oh, yes, I will just magically know. And, I’m sure that when I decide, based upon my own intuition, who has succeeded and who has not, I’m sure that no students will protest that at all. Teaching at a community college, I get very few students who are there because of their “inborn, natural desire to learn.” Instead, they are there for a concrete goal, and my required survey course is an inconvenient step along the way that they have to survive. While I don’t necessarily believe that everyone needs a college education, if we left it up to only those with an inherent desire to learn our subjects, I imagine most of us would be out of a job quickly. As well, I think this swerves dangerously toward a very elitist system of education, like the early stages of college education, where the only people who get an advanced education are those well off enough to not have to work.
OK. That’s about it for now. I could hit more, but I’m a bit tired and have a headache, so I will stop there. Thoughts?
I came across an article recently that had me reading a long list. I’m not crazy about lists, but when I use them, I try to keep them short (under 5-6). I also write a lot in general, so a long list format doesn’t work great for me because I tend to make each item way too long. But this one was interesting to me, and should be interesting to anyone who teaches or takes classes. The article is The 67 Worst Teaching Mistakes. What was interesting to me was that the list was not produced by some editor at an online publication somewhere, as those types of lists tend to be so vague and general as to be completely useless. Instead, this list came from user submitted mistakes, all submitted by current educators with both their names and institutions included in the list. This makes it inherently more interesting and worth looking at. Here are some of the highlights that I agree with:
3. Always standing behind the lectern – This is something I have come more and more to do as I move forward with my teaching. In fact, I believe teaching from any single spot is a drawback, as it easily lulls the students into a torpor upon looking at the same spot for 75 minutes. I may walk around excessively, but it is better than standing still the whole time.
7. Talking too much or doing too much – I fail at this every day I teach. I am a talker by nature, and I have a hard time controlling myself in a classroom setting. I know I say too much, and I know I don’t leave enough time for the students to speak.
26. Telling students they must read the textbook or other materials and then not following up on that requirement – I have been working on this one, but it is something I do not do well. I don’t like having my students read a textbook, but it is something that is a requirement in my department, and so I have to. My feelings on textbooks in general are mixed, as I don’t find them to be very useful, and I think students rarely get much out of reading them. At the same time, however, I can’t assume that my students have a strong level of knowledge on my subject prior to my classes, so there has to be something there to give them the basics. As well, since I do a hybrid, flipped classroom, they have to get this information from outside of class in some way, and the textbook is the least objectionable form for it. Because of all of this, I am not good at integrating the actual material into my course. There are chapter quizzes, but they are separate from anything else in my class, making them disconnected. This was the biggest negative comment about my class from last semester, and I am working on ways to improve the integration of the required readings into my course.
30. Testing for knowledge and understanding of course content through multiple-choice tests and exams only – This is what inspired me to move to a hybrid, flipped model of teaching, as I strongly believe that rote memorization is an abject failure of teaching in the history classroom.
65. Believing that you are the answer person for the students, that you should never admit that you don’t know something, because students might lose respect for you as the professor – Although this one is directly contradicted by some of the other mistakes here, I do believe this one is spot on. I teach my class in a way that has the students question everything, and I could not do that and then set myself up as infallible. I admit when I don’t know the answer, and I usually hedge a lot of my answers with something like “My understanding is . . .” or “This is how it is currently understood . . .” The key is that history is changing, and there are many topics that we don’t know the answer to. If you present history as a completed subject, then you are just asking the students to memorize the accepted answers. I want my students to think, and the course is centered around that. I want them to question what they know, what they are told, and what the “truth” is, and I would be failing them if I presented myself as the ultimate source on everything.
Those are the ones that stuck out to me as ones that I have tried to work on or agree with very strongly. That’s not to say that others aren’t relevant as well, but I don’t want to just sit here and comment on all of them. As this post is already of a pretty decent length, I’m going to make this one part 1. In my next post, I’ll go through the same list and talk about the ones I disagree with. So, keep an eye out here for part 2.