Thursday, January 03, 2008

January teaching tips

How to teach a three-hour morning class on a cold, snowy day in January when everyone in the room would rather be at home in front of a roaring fire:

1. Pace yourself. A three-hour class is not the Boston Marathon; it's just two 75-minute classes back-to-back with a break in the middle. Teaching a 75-minute class is a piece of cake, so two in a row should be double the cake.

2. Speaking of cake, I recommend cupcakes. J-term courses tend to attract nontraditional students, who often have children, who may have recently celebrated a birthday, which may have generated cupcakes in the low three figures. If a student offers to clear the house of cupcakes by bringing the leftovers to class, the only correct answer is "Yum."

3. Don't look out the window. There's nothing out there for you. Everything you need is in the classroom, provided that you don't need a roaring fire, a good book, a cup of cocoa, and a cat. If you do need that, then what are you doing teaching a J-term class?

4. If you were stranded on a desert island and you could choose any 11 people to share the experience, you'd probably select someone who could build a boat, someone who could create nourishing three-course meals from palm fronds, sand, and bat guano, and someone who could tell stories to keep everyone laughing through the intestinal cramps, but you didn't get to choose these 11 students, did you? You have no idea what kinds of skills they bring to the table. Find out. Use them.

5. Sit down and shut up--often. You can't lecture for three hours straight (and no one would listen to you if you could), so make the other 11 people in the room do some of the yapping.

6. Make sure the classroom is comfortable--but not too comfortable. A cozy chair in a warm room will result in droopy eyelids and the occasional accidental snort. Keep it cool and keep 'em moving.

7. Make sure to select a topic that you can teach without too much outside preparation, but make sure you still have more to learn. Choose a topic you know too well and you'll bore yourself silly (and, possibly, the students too); choose a topic you don't know well enough and you'll spend every waking hour preparing for class, which leaves next to no time for the aforementioned fire, book, cocoa, and cat.

8. Do the assignments along with the students. There's no better way to discover the flaws in an assignment than to try to do it yourself in the same time available to the students. For instance, if the homework demands that they write a set of humorous instructions for any task, then you could write a set of instructions for how to survive a three-hour class on a cold, snowy January morning when everyone in the room would rather be home in front of a roaring fire.

Nah. It'll never happen.


Bardiac said...

Great idea :)

MountainLaurel said...

That is also the recipe for a good summer class that is 8 hours long. Except that you need to bring jackets and blankets for the students if you teach in the building I did.