Bain’s (2004) What the Best College Teachers Do

At the end of his introductory chapter, Bain (2004) notes his two hopes for the reader: 1) “I hope this book will inspire readers to make a systematic and reflective appraisal of their own teaching approaches and strategies” and “I hope readers will take away from this book the conviction that good teaching can be learned” (p. 21).

While I cannot speak for other readers, I can speak for myself regarding the 115 pages of the 178 pages I have read (I’m a slow reader). I do believe his first hope was realized for me. All my lif,e education has been based in lectures. I don’t remember elementary school or middle school – which is probably a good thing considering the pictures I have seen of myself from those times (braces + pimples + poor attempts at being “cool” with bright make-up and ill-fitting clothes = awkward) –  but high school and undergraduate university was defined by me sitting in a class listening to an instructor speak. And, for someone who has a touch of ADHD (inattentive type), it would take about 15 minutes for me to space out into some fantasy land where no one had to know how to use sine, cosine, and tangent (which, it turns out, is anywhere outside of a math class, as it has been so long since I used those terms I had to look them up to get the spelling correct). But, this didn’t just occur in math class. It occurred in all classes, despite the interest of the subject and the best intentions of the instructor. I just cannot pay attention to a lecture for that long.

But, when I started to teach myself, I did the same. I, as Albert Bandura would have easily guessed, mimicked the only style I knew. I lectured in front of a powerpoint for the every single minute of the class, every single day of the class. I did the same to my students what other instructors had done to me, despite knowing the implications. Specifically, I knew it was boring, mostly because I was bored when I was lecturing.

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I’m not sure why, but this picture seems to sum up my teaching in the past. I was the bored/angry cat. And, my students were the sad clown/doll.

But, for a while now, because of a class or two I have taken, a conversation or two I have had, and a conference or two I have attended, I have begun to move away from boring my students (and myself). And, this book was the clincher. Somewhere in the book, the exact spot I can no longer remember, Bain (2004) wrote about how the best teachers often defy the standards of their discipline. The rebellious side of me, the part who thought, 12 years ago, that a shirt with a evil kitten was “cool”, was intrigued. Certainly, my experience has taught me that I cannot be my best when lecturing (Bain, 2004, noted that some of their best teachers were sometimes lecturing, but I do not believe I excel in that regard). So, I’m inspired to begin deviating from the social norm – I’ve never been too fond of social norms anyway.

So, every few pages of the book, I would have an idea for a future class that I would jot away in my phone before it floated off to somewhere in the space-time continuum I could not find. Some of my notes included: “include projects designed by the students”, “place students in small groups”, and “have students pick the topics we discuss”. I wrote with fervor of what I could do to rank among the best teachers Bain (2004) was discussing. However, I fear that these ideas may be a mere reflection of excitement, but not of substance.

Because, Bain’s (2004) second hope was not realized for me. At least so far, I do have over 50 pages left. Despite the sparse notes on the past failures of these best teachers, Bain (2004) spent most of his time describing what the best teachers do, not what the best teachers did. He seemed to focus on lofty aspirations, not realistic goals. For example, while it is admirable that the best teachers expect every student to meet the high, but manageable, standards set for the class, what do they do with the small percentage who, for one reason or another, do not meet such standards (either because of a lack of time, a lack of motivation, or a lack of organization)? Or, how do they have the time to do all of these wonderful things of which they speak? Or, what do they say to higher-ups who want them to instead stand with the status quo? The answers to these questions were not provided, not even mentioned. Therefore, it seemed as though, maybe by definition, these best teachers experienced no problems, no problems at all. They do not seem to face many of the problems I seem to face.

With the rose-colored glasses in which these best teachers are discussed, according to my reading, it did seem to appear that many of the qualities were innate, beyond the grasp of people such as myself. So, although I was very inspired by what I COULD do in the future, I still remain skeptical of what I WOULD do in the future.

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“I want to be a good instructor. I promise. I just don’t know how!”

Given, Bain (2004) did warn that the book was not a manual of what to do and what not to do when teaching. Yet, despite this qualification, he, nevertheless, hints at it with aplomb. Although the next pages may provide such guidance, if not, hopefully, the other books that have begun to arrive at my front door will be more directive with the fine details, not just the big picture.

Until next time: bye!

P.S. My apologies for the pessimism. It was/is a good book, which I have enjoyed so far, but lacking in solid advice (which was not the intention of the book anyway, but it was what I was trying to find).

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My Favorite Teacher

My memory is bad. Absolutely, horrifyingly, devastatingly bad. Oftentimes, I wonder if I have dissociative amnesia that happens to flare up on a regular basis. Or, if, every so often, I receive a blow to the head that knocks out all my memories. Either way, I only vaguely remember the style and techniques of this particular professor. I remember the class was mostly lecture in format, we had three tests, and many trees were killed for the amount of handouts he gave us. But, what I do remember, what I am certain that I remember, is that he made learning statistics fun. Or, as fun as learning statistics could be.

I have never been a “math person”. It is one of the reasons for why I went into psychology. I knew math was involved, but it was crunched using a computer, so I would never have to do it, or even see it being done. Nevertheless, I feared the math of psychology, statistics, a required course. The first day of class, all I felt was impending doom. I equate the feeling to what I imagine of small fish near hungry sharks or my dogs near my vacuum. It was not a pleasant wait until class started.

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A picture of me on the first day of class. (Emotional interpretation required.)

But, I will always remember his opening statement to the class (a paraphrase, as I don’t remember his exact words): “Statistics is your friend. He’s awkward, but he is your friend.” And, although I did not believe it at the time, he was right. Through that class, statistics became my friend. My professor sprinkled lectures with funny examples, simple metaphors, and true empathy. Knowing the daunting (and dreary) nature of statistics, my professor broke it down step-by-step, detail-by-detail, mouse click-by-mouse click. Even though I wish I could remember more about my professor’s teaching (just one or two illustrative anecdotes would be nice – but all that exists is static), I do believe I have held onto the important piece. He made statistics so easy that it became fun. So I learned a great deal. Sure, I was not competent, but I was confident.

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A picture of me on the last day of class. (Emotional interpretation required.)

And, with that confidence, built from my professor’s class, I read one of the largest statistics books known to man (Field’s Discovering Statistics – which I highly recommend) and taught my own statistics class when I became a graduate student. My opening statement for my own class? “Statistics is your friend. He’s awkward, but he is your friend.”

Until next time: bye!

Introduction

Hello all,

Let’s first start with the infamous graduate student introduction: I’m Tess, a second-year PhD student in experimental psychology here at UA. As an experimental, not clinical, psychologist-in-training, I want to assuage any concerns by emphasizing that I do not read minds, despite the accusations that have been levied every so often (although, after others get to know me, I am often identified as a smidge “eccentric” or “odd” or “weird”, which I always take as a compliment, no matter the intention of the speaker). Among the other responsibilities of graduate student life, I’m currently starting my dissertation, which is on interfaith intolerance, to add to existing research on alternative cultures in sexuality and religion. Hopefully, if all goes according to plan, I’ll graduate next year to transition to the life of a faculty member at a small liberal arts college in the northwest. Such is the next step in achieving my ultimate life goal of becoming a cantankerous old woman who lives in the woods with numerous well-loved dogs (I already have two!).

Yes, I agree. They are adorable.

But, here are three tidbits about me that are likely more enlightening than the above. I originally hail from Arizona, although I just spent the past three years in Texas – yet I have always felt my home was in Oregon, despite only visiting Portland twice in my life. For those who speak the language of psychological jargon, my big five personality profile is high openness, high conscientiousness, low extraversion, low agreeableness, and low neuroticism (if you want to know your big five personality profile, go here: http://www.personal.psu.edu/~j5j/IPIP/ipipneo120.htm). In my spare time, I like to collect abandoned pieces of furniture and refurbish them, which satisfies my desire to be creative while also obeying my need to not spend a lot of money (because, graduate school).

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This was my most recent project.

I look forward to getting to know you guys this semester, via online blog and real life. I have much to learn about teaching, so I’m glad to be here!

Until next time, bye!