Thursday, September 18, 2008

StyleyGeek becomes one of THOSE teachers(?)

Next week I am filling in for a colleague who is going off to a conference, so today I sat in on his class to see where he's at in the syllabus and to gauge what the students are like.

And now I have a problem.

See, he's kind of rocking the "absolutely no interaction, talk mainly to the board in a mumble while writing indecipherable squiggles" teaching style. And from what I can tell, it's working for him (for a given value of "working"). He has three students. They are all super-geniuses (I've had them in my classes before), and also super-introverts. I think they like the non-threateningness of this guy's approach. And they seem to be learning despite it (see: super-geniuses). I can tell this from my very non-scientific method of squinting over their shoulders to see what notes they were making. (Smart ones: that's what.)

So my problem is: what do I do next week? Do I try to approximate the "lecture to the board" teaching style? (Without actually facing the board, obviously, since that's just stoopid.) Can I bring myself to do that with a room full (for a given value of "full") of a whole three students?

On the other hand, if I try to interact with them at all, I suspect it's going to come off like an awkward first day of class, where everyone looks at the ground and gets embarrassed. Or they might respond grudgingly, but I still don't think two guest lectures is enough time to get a sparkling enthusiastic atmosphere happening. And I bet they will resent me forever if I try to run the class with exercises and discussion instead of a lecture, as I expect they associate problem-solving tasks with introductory courses and think it beneath them.

What would you do?


Carine said...

Always your own teaching style!

The Scientist said...

yeah, i'd just do the boring lecture by talking to the class, but try to skip on the mumble. then they'll probably like you better (because you suit their learning style but are easier to understand).

alternately, have two types of lecture prepared (with the same material) and ask them if they want to do a type where you give examples or not. everyone's an adult so it doesn't have to be awkward!

WhatLadder said...

Guest teaching is weird at the best of times. You can try the "here's how I normally present it" tactic to them, and see how they react. If they look panicky, go with the lecture.

Grace Dalley said...

If they're super-geniuses they might not mind what style you teach in.

And based on super-genius introverts I have known (and I've known a few!), they might actually love interacting with other super-genius introverts in a structured setting.

AS long as you pitch the class at the right academic level, you might have a great time together! You can hardy have a less threatening class size than 3!

Jana said...

Be true to your own style. You should do the best you can, and your best won't be an approximation of someone else's style. You'll seem inauthentic, and possibly boring.

Hey, just because *he's* boring doesn't mean you have to be. The students will welcome you as a breath of fresh air, I bet.

Jana said...

Oh, Carine - thank you for commenting on my blog over the past year or so. If you've tried to load it in the last month, you'll have seen that it's password-protected. I did that after a horrible incident in which my students collided with remarks I'd made about them on my Facebook page (the fallout was so awful that I nearly deleted the whole blog).

If you did happen to want to keep reading, let me know in this comment thread and I'll send you an invitation.

(Sorry for hijacking your comment thread, Styley)

Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong with the board and lecture style. It has its time and its place. The point of alternative teaching methods is to teach to different learning styles, and it sounds like you've got a group of kids whose learning styles actually suit the old school methods.

If you are worried that they will find your more comfortable teaching style "beneath them," then you also have to worry that that they will find YOU beneath them, so you have to counter that. I would suggest starting your more interactive course with a few problems that are too hard for them. Walk them through it, but make them sweat. Then they will be sufficiently intimidated to take your lead through the your actual presentation.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

You know, I'd just do whatever's easiest for YOU. If you've got a couple of lectures in the bag, and you can pull them out with little effort? and you don't find lectures exhausting and painful to do? Great! Lecture away! If adapting to his class style would be a ton of work to write up the lectures, or you really really hate lecturing? Then do your own thing. It's not your class to worry about long term; you're doing this person a favor; you'll do it well whichever way; I'd take the selfish route. ;-)

liz said...

They've been in your classes before so they'll be expecting you to teach the way you teach. Be yourself, bubbeleh.

StyleyGeek said...

Wow, thanks for all the advice. I think I'll probably go with trying my own teaching style. I think anonymous's point about giving them something really hard to start with is maybe a good one.

NK - I definitely don't have anything I can "pull out" of the bag for this - it's a far more advanced course than I've taught before and basically I'm teaching a topic from my dissertation, plus a topic that I last thought about when we covered it in a graduate seminar during my MA. But I still don't want the students to walk away feeling like they just heard about the topic without having come to grips with it themselves. Linguistics is most of all about hands-on analysis, so I want to give them a chance to do some of that.

Anonymous - I wasn't mocking the "lecture to the class" style of teaching. Absolutely that is sometimes appropriate, and it's always going to be one of the tools in our bag of tricks. I was snarky about the teaching (a little) only because he literally faced the board rather than the room for 90% of the time, and spoke in a mumble that was as hard to decipher as his handwriting. Also, yesterday's topic was a theory that this guy himself hasn't worked with since the early 80s, so he basically gave a summary of how it used to work in the 70s and 80s. Things have changed a lot since then! (Of course I'm not by a long way a perfect teacher and I'm sure I have my annoying quirks as well.)

The other reason I was making fun of the lecturing style was that I had always thought of it as most appropriate for larger classes. It seemed extremely weird to me to do it in a class of three, particularly since there is so much more opportunity in a class that size to find out what the students' strengths, weaknesses, and interests are and to teach to those.