TITLE: Working on Advice for New Faculty AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: March 02, 2010 7:05 PM DESC: ----- BODY: SIGCSE 2010 logo Julie Zelenski and Dave Reed have invited me to serve as a "sage elder" at the New Educators Roundtable, a pre-conference workshop at SIGCSE 2010. The roundtable is "designed to mentor college and university faculty who are new to teaching". This must surely be a mistake! I may well be an elder after all these years stalking the front of a classroom, but sage? Ha. In so many ways, I feel like a beginner every time I to the front of a class. Experience does teach us lessons, though, so even if I still have a lot to learn and incorporate into how I teach, I probably do have some lessons I can share with people who are just getting started. If nothing else, I can talk with new faculty about some of the mistakes I have made. Each person must must live his or her own experiences, but sometimes we can plant a seed in people's minds that will germinate later, when the time is right for each person. (That sounds a lot like all teaching, actually.) The website for the workshop will ultimately contain information from the workshop sessions themselves. To start, it will have short biographies of the elders. Actually, "biography" is a bit too formal a name for it. The header on the draft web page currently says "Bio / blurb / career highlights / anecdotes / historical fiction". Here is the retrospective falsification of my own career that I submitted:
In the fourth grade, my favorite teacher of all time told me that I would never be a teacher; I was too impatient with others. For that and many other reasons, I never expected to become a teacher when I grew up. As a graduate student doing AI at Michigan State, I was assigned to teach a few courses. I did fine, I think, but even then I planned to move into industry as a researcher and developer. Somehow, I ended up at UNI, a medium-sized public "teaching university". I've been teaching classes here since 1992. My largest section ever contained 53 students; the smallest, 4.
That is pretty much true, at least as I remember it. I included the size of my largest and smallest sections ever because many new faculty teach at big universities and will face massive CS1 and CS2 sections of several hundred students at a time. The advice I have to offer may not be as helpful in that context, so I want the people who attend the workshop to know my context. Several of my co-panelists will be able to speak more directly to those attendees. On the flip side, I have taught a long list of different courses over the years, so I can connect my experiences with many different content areas and types of course. We elders were also asked to submit a list of "things you wish you had known" when we started teaching, as a way to jump start our thinking, as well as that of prospective attendees. Here is a list that I brainstormed:
Be honest. Students value honesty. Even the best students will fall down occasionally. When they do, it doesn't mean there is something wrong with them, or with you. Give feedback on assignments promptly. The previous advice is a specific example of something more general: Most students don't handle uncertainty well. Even students who "get it" might think they do not. Setting draconian standards and policies does more harm to your learning environment than it buys you. Instead, set reasonable, firm, and challenging standards. Students appreciate that they are expected to accomplish something meaningful. A lecture or classroom activity is only as good as what it helps your students do.
Each of these could use some elaboration ("Um, you thought being dishonest with students was a good thing?"), but as a start they reflect some of what I've learned. As I prepare further for the workshop, I plan to read through the archives of the Teaching and Learning category of this blog. There are plenty of things I have learned and forgotten over the years. I hope that I wrote a few of those things down... I think being on the New Educators' Roundtable might be as valuable for this elder as it is for the new educators. (I repeat: That sounds a lot like all teaching, actually.) -----