Teaching Lessons: Always Be Willing to Try Something New

When I got my first job as an adjunct at the community college where I am now full time faculty member, I was not at all prepared. I learned to be flexible and “roll with it” fairly quickly, but the learning curve was steep to say the least. One important lesson I learned very early on was not to be afraid of new ideas, technology, or formats when it came to teaching. In the year and half I spent as an adjunct (2007/2008) these are some of the “new things” I tried:

  • Blackboard
  • 8 week courses
  • 12 week courses
  • Guest speakers
  • Student Presentations
  • Group Presentations
  • Computer Labs
  • Power Point Presentations
  • Using media in class (video & audio)
  • Using supplemental material outside of the required textbook
  • Using film
  • Becoming a faculty advisor for a student creative writing group
  • Subbing for other English courses/instructors 
  • Incorporating creative writing techniques into my comp courses
  • Copy editing the student lit mag, New Voices 
  • Mentoring new adjuncts 
During this time I was strictly teaching English Composition courses, so in terms of course content I also tried some of the following ideas:
  • Using short stories for the in class essay assignment. Among my favorites were The Lottery, The Yellow Wallpaper and A Good Man is Hard to Find
  • Using Annie Dillard’s opening paragraph from A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek to introduce the narrative essay assignment.
  • Using movie/music reviews from The New Yorker to introduce the evaluation essay assignment.
  • Requiring students to pick a local non profit as the subject for their evaluation essay.
  • Requiring students to interview a faculty member to practice interview skills for evaluation essay. 
  • Requiring students to prepare a 5 minute informative presentation over their research paper topic. This included a brief power point presentation, so they could learn what and what not to do. 
  • Using current periodicals such as The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Nature, The Christian Science Monitor, etc to find topics for their research paper. 
  • Creating an evaluation guide for online sources (still fairly new territory at the time)
  • Creating APA Guides and worksheets
  • Developing an annotated bibliography assignment
    A Good Man is Hard to Find by Giselle Potter 
Once I was hired on full time, my course load began to look less like a composition hell and more like that of a normal instructor. In other words, I eventually got to diversify a bit in to creative writing courses (my true love), research writing courses and lit classes. In addition to trying new things related directly to teaching, I also go to dabble in the following:
  • Committee work
  • Online classes
  • Academic panels and/or presentations 
  • Participating in some professional development activities (cooking class & faculty book club)
  • Advising for Phi Theta Kappa
  • Working with the Honors College
  • Re-writing English 111 (comp)
  • Attending conferences 
  • Organizing events for National Poetry Month
  • Co-advising for our student lit mag, New Voices 
  • Continuing to advise for our creative writing group, The Blank Page 
Admittedly, I have enjoyed some these new things more than others. For example, I love working with my colleagues on academic projects like the panel I put together for Black History Month or the work I do with New Voices. On the other hand, I’m not as keen on committee work or re-writing course curriculum.

This entire post is sparked by yet another new endeavor I am embarking on this spring. I will be teaching a section of Honors World Lit I on a new platform. This new project is allowing me to design a course using brand new technology, which means I have to learn said technology. Today, I had a meeting with course designer who is my partner in crime on this project, and I left the meeting feeling a tad overwhelmed but mostly I felt excited to start something new.

The face of education is constantly changing, and as a result, the role of the professor in the classroom is also changing. However, I would argue that instead of becoming less important, as some people seem to fear is the case, I think we are becoming more important. That being said, we need to be willing to stretch and learn along with our students. 

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