Thoughts on Education – Teaching Mistakes I – 8/1/2013

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.

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About Scott Williams

I am an educator, community-college instructor, thinker, husband, parent of three, student of life, owner of a parrot, player of video games, voracious reader, restless wanderer, and all around guy.

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