Thursday, September 26, 2013

The hazards of classroom-hopping

Suppose you're up for tenure and promotion and a member of the committee charged with evaluating your worthiness visits your class to observe your teaching--but then gets up and runs laps around the room in the middle of your lecture. What do you do?

I didn't have a chance to find out today because I stayed in my chair. Yes: I am that annoying colleague who comes to visit your class, observe your teaching, and report back to the tenure and promotion committee, and I'm trying to sit quietly and inconspicuously in the back of the room but the overactive air conditioner is blowing directly onto my back and transforming my flesh into one solid ice cube so I would really really really like to get up and run around the room a few times just to get my blood pumping again, but I won't. I'll just sit here. If I freeze to death, throw me in a blender and call me Dr. Smoothie.

I've been observing various colleagues' classes for two weeks now and I've learned quite a lot, including the need to carry both a blanket and a fan to every class. I spent time today in four classrooms in three different buildings, and I froze in two and turned into an instant sweat-bomb in a third. One classroom was just right, but only because both windows were open on the side of the building facing a busy street, so sometimes the professor had to shout over traffic noise.

I've noticed some other things too. All this time I thought it was just MY students who could sit through an entire hour of thrilling and essential information without ever taking up pen to write any of it down, but apparently resistance to note-taking is a common trait, as is failing to carry or open the textbook. I've seen it in classes all over campus and I've done it myself repeatedly: 20 or 30 minutes into a class session I'll pause to mention that the material we've been covering is likely to show up on an exam in the not-too-distant future, so "You might want to write this down," and then the vast majority of the students have to go digging through their backpacks to find a pen and paper. Apparently it's bad luck or something to start the class with a pen and paper at the ready, not to mention the textbook. Textbook? What textbook? Just give 'em a study guide and a set of PowerPoint slides and forget about the textbooks!

I've seen some great teaching--in fact, that's one of the hazards of observing my colleagues: I get a taste of some really great teaching on interesting topics and I wish I could drop everything and sign up for the class. But I can't. I have classes of my own to teach, classes in rooms that might be too hot or too cold or too loud but at least I'm free to do something about it. No one can stop me from running laps around the room to keep warm in my own classroom, but I promise not to do it when I'm observing yours.   


Anonymous said...

In the future we will skype from a studio and "talk" to students who will type their comments. And lo! Everyone will have a record of the conversation. And lo! It will be cheaper. And low, like a bereft calf.


Bev said...

Yes indeed. I hear that lowing.