Talking to Others About Teaching

Inherently, the premise of this blog is to bring like-minded folks together who care about teaching in the social sciences. We share tools, ideas, events, and musings. And I have come to appreciate the people who reach out in comments, mitigating the one-sided way in which this blog-writing largely takes place.

Recently, though, I took my musings into the real world and joined a three-week long pedagogy book club run through my institutions center for teaching and learning. We all (re)read James M. Lang’s “Small Teaching”, and then discussed its parts over three meetings. This post is brief (because not everything has to be a magnus opus), but it is, nonetheless, an appreciation post for 1) talking in real life to others about teaching and 2) going back to the basics.

This spring semester has so far been interesting (maybe sometimes frustrating) in terms of motivating students to do the work and presenting information in engaging ways. Having a group of educators, from all sorts of academic disciplines, coming together and sharing their thoughts/concerns/ideas was revitalizing to me. I felt validated with some concerns I shared, but it was also amazing to have people share similar problems but also, building on Lang’s work and his ideas, come together and find solutions that can be relatively easily implemented in the classroom the next day – and not next semester. I am appreciative for this space having been created!

Credit: Nishant Choksi/NPR

I consider Lang’s work foundational in my journey. I am going to assume many folks who are here have read his work or at least have heard of it, so I will not summarize it. It was given to me by an advisor during my grad program, and I have held on to the wisdoms that Lang shares, trying to make those small changes and improvements in the classroom. Sometimes, though, I forget. I am probably not special in that, but I (or we) simply do not have the capacity to keep everything in mind all the time as we are teaching. Especially while we are in the midst of the semester marathon, we are rarely able to take a breath and assess what is going on. The book club served as a great opportunity to revisit something I had already read and engage with it through more experienced eyes, who have more practical problems in the classroom that need resolving. I was able to actually (re)find solutions to issues I am struggling with this semester.

So, I guess, at the end of the day, this post is all about hyping an older book in the teaching discipline and your institutions’ teaching and learning centers – and finding your people.