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I want it all


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In a previous thread, a member asked about teaching tips for her intro psych class she teaches, and it got me thinking about academia and the relative lack of emphasis on good pedagogy. Through reading this forum as well as reading comments on the Chronicle of Higher Education, it seems that a lot of people find teaching secondary to research. Yeah, yeah, being an academic is about doing and sharing research, but I think it should be about passing on knowledge as well.

I have been stedfast in my desire to be a professor since my early days of college, though I have flirted with various social science fields before finding my place (psychology, economic geography, and now education). For me, part of the appeal of being a professor was the teaching. I feel I am lucky to be in the area of education, where teaching is a major part of what we do, but for everyone else out there...what are your thoughts on pedagogy and the college classroom?

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While I applied to several schools that are famous for their research, I ended up getting my only acceptance from a school that places a relatively heavy emphasis on pedagogy compared to similar programs. As sad as I was knowing that I wouldn't have a big name Ivy on my CV, I also got reassurances from several camps that my school's reputation for pedagogical training meant that the graduates had a pretty good hiring history. Maybe they didn't end up at big schools, but they ended up with jobs fairly quickly, and that is certainly the goal right now.

I've heard this discussed on other threads, but here it goes again: As happy as I would be to be a known scholar making a big impact in my field, and that is certainly my "shoot for the stars" goal, my "real world" goal is to just be able to make a living doing what I love. This means that even if I end up teaching at a small state college and pulling a few extra courses at a community college, I'll be happy as long as I'm making enough money to help support my family and not be completely swallowed up in debt.

And even though I feel like I have some compelling and unique research interests for my field, one of my constant reference points in the application process was always "Can I stand the idea of teaching this material for the next thirty or thirty-five years? Am I okay with stress and gray hairs and sacrificing hours to paper-grading in order to share this stuff that I love? Will I be happy spending most of my time interacting with students, most of whom aren't in it for the long-haul, and spending a smaller amount of time at conferences and with colleagues that are truly of a mind with me?"

The answer was yes. I really really want to teach.

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I love research. The main reason why I took so long to decide whether to go to grad-school was that I didn't think I was the type who would enjoy teaching; it was hard for me to envision.

And then I realised that regardless of how I feel about teaching per se, I will automatically talk to anyone willing to listen for any amount of time about any topic having anything whatsoever to do with linguistics. Plus, I've been told that I get pretty darn enthusiastic when I do this.

I've since stopped worrying about the teaching side of things. * grins *

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My primary function is research and I have no plans on going into instruction of any form post-grad. Regardless, I TA a course in introductory oceanography (which is really funny because my research is in meteorology, I just had a partially overlapping background that fulfilled their needs).

Anyways, I still put forth a lot of effort in my TA work. I had some really awful TAs during my undergrad. Some seemed to go out of their way to make others miserable, and it was ridiculous to witness. I took a personal vow that I would never do that if I ended up doing instruction in some form. So although my TA work is secondary and I only do it as part of my funding, I put an effort into it. I'm not going to bend over backwards and I'm not going to coddle students, but I work to try to present the information they need in a clear and concise manner, I hold my office hours and I respond readily to students' questions and concerns as they have them. So far, that's worked pretty well.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I feel that the best professors are those who marry their research and teaching into a seamless program, and one that students couldn't get anywhere else.

Example: a graduate student in Irish studies decides to focus on medieval Irish lyrics. There's not much out there, so he expands his focus to medieval Irish lyrics and their reception insular and external. This leads him to Breton lais, and he starts researching intercontinental parallels. Now he is working in Irish medieval and Norman/ Anglo-Norman literatures. There's enough there to keep him busy for the next thirty, forty years. In his survey course, he starts making connections between the work he is doing and other medieval texts as well as later literary traditions in Britain. Now he's working in Anglo-Saxon, and even Middle English, because you really can't do Anglo-Norman without looking at Anglo-Saxon. His classes have started becoming more and more comparative in nature. As he finds the parallels and the resonant themes and underlying ideas, and starts connecting and critically comparing scribes and scribal choices, his classes are taking a profound shift towards this sort of material. His students are learning how to compare a literary tradition with another, and they are applying this to other courses. Reading Yeats, he clearly sees the thought patterns that directly tie into the tradition he is researching of reverberation between the medieval cultures he's working in, which makes sense since Yeats steeped himself in them. He is able to incorporate THAT into his survey classes. Now he's started a program of research for himself that has turned into a program of teaching that is clearly having a positive effect on his students' ability to foster connections and to spot similarities and differences and critically analyze them for whether or not they are intentional or not. His teaching has grown and shifted with his research patterns, and the whole thing is going in the direction he, himself wants to go as an academic -prepping for class becomes a natural part of his research work, rather than a separate duty. This way, the teaching is part of his research - he's testing his theories and ideas in the classroom, taking the critical feedback and questions his students raise, and refining it all into articles, talks, conference presentations, perhaps a book or two.

I think great professors do this sort of thing as a matter of course, and I think it makes for the best teaching and writing, because you are working specifically in what you want to be working in, and it all goes together. You're not constantly fighting with your teaching schedule and duties versus your research and writing schedules and duties - it's all a program that works together. I feel like that is good scholarship.

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