a reflection on teaching 1

Tomorrow, I am back in the classroom for the first time in almost two years, and as much as I’m looking forward to it, I’ll admit that I’m a bit nervous. Yes, I did teach last year, with some live on-line sessions as well as some significant recorded material. But it wasn’t the same.

I miss the performative aspect of teaching; I miss working with my students, my audience. I miss gauging how well they’re following the current argument. I miss backtracking and tangents and doing what I can to provide an entertaining and informative overview of the subject. I miss working with the students as they engage with the material and work through the details of the assessment.

I wrote about one aspect of this getting back to teaching recently, when I wrote about the physical space. I walked through the rooms I’ve been assigned last week, stood at the front of the room looking out over the seats. I’ve taught in both of my rooms before, and so they’re comfortable spaces for me, as comfortable as any room can be in our current circumstances.

But it’s much more than this. I am an inveterate list maker, and I’ve spent some time (as I do from time to time) going through old lists, finding ideas that I’d written and forgotten and thinking, how might this work in the classroom.

Beyond some now-standard things, perhaps having a single question on-line quiz at the beginning or middle of each teaching session, picking up on some point I think an important point to stress, making use of the reflection on the changes we’ve all thought through after the past year.

But there are other things, that I’d written down and then forgotten. Watching old documentaries about stand up comedy, there’s a lesson for teaching from improvisational comedy: never say no. No matter how strange or ridiculous the thing being thrown at you, by the audience or by one’s partner, respond instead with a ‘Yes, and…’ Build on it, perhaps turn it around.

And this turning becomes then a form of instructional jiu-jitsu. Taking the energy of the comment or the question, and changing its path into a path that allows for illumination and learning. And this I think is the core of my nervousness.

In person aikido has only recently started, and I can feel the rust in my bones and my reactions. And I worry that this same rust might affect my ability to handle the stadium, the arena of the lecture theatre. I’ve been teaching the same module for a number of years now, and I’ll admit that my scripting of each session has become more skeletal over time.

But for this year, I will go back to a full scripting, reminding myself of what might be some pressure points, some particular topics that have in the past generated interesting and tricky mathematical questions. We’ll have fun and in the end it will all be fine.

~ by Jim Anderson on 3 October 2021.

One Response to “a reflection on teaching 1”

  1. […] gets back to some of the points I touched on last week. I was nervous about my ability to make this contact with my students, but that nervousness seems […]

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