It’s my third annual evaluation season as chair. I’ve progressed, or at least improved my attitude, since the first year.
Our school has a reasonable system in place for the annual evaluation of research, one that addresses a big pain point—consistency across disciplines. But that system is not the focus of this post. (If you can’t wait until pigs fly for that post, I am happy to tell you about it IRL. Hit me up.)
This post is about evaluation of teaching. I’ve shared many thoughts about teaching on this blog. Loyal readers know that I rely very little on student ratings (“SET”) . Rather, my assessments are based on the manager’s (my) perspective. What value does each faculty member provide to the division: can s/he teach what we need to have taught, when it needs to be taught, in a way that shows thoughtful attention to student learning?
In preparing for the annual evaluations, I have been further reflecting on three roles we play for our students.
- Getting the knowledge from our heads into their heads.
- Modeling expertise in the topic.
- Motivating them to continue the study of the topic beyond the class.
The first role (transferring knowledge) has many parts.
- As a starting point, you must HAVE the knowledge in your head.
- You need to be calibrated to what the students already know and don’t know and what is useful for them.
- And you need to know how to explain it, probably many different ways, which means you need depth of understanding and great communication.
- I advise people to play to their own strengths. Are you a great lecturer? Are you great at leading class discussions? There is never just one way to get the knowledge from your head into their heads.
- You need to understand how students will respond to the structure and incentives of the class. Students attend to activities that have points associated with them. Allocate the points in a way that reflects which knowledge, skills, and other learning objectives are most important.
The second role (modeling expertise) is an essential way that having a real, live teacher is different from reading a textbook or watching video content. Be prepared for class but still find opportunities to think on your feet. That way you can demonstrate how to wrestle with the important elements of a question, and how to use the frameworks from a topic and whatever data may be available to make a reasoned argument.
Beyond modeling expertise in a discipline, you should also model professional maturity in that discipline. How to admit that you don’t know. How to accept and incorporate feedback but remain faithful to your values.
The third role (motivating students) may simply be an extension of the second role. I like how Rod Baird put it: “when teachers aren’t knowledgeable and passionate to the point of being borderline fanatical, how will they be able to transfer that knowledge and passion and compulsive purposefulness to their students?” (p. 229 of Counterfeit Kids).
Taking an interest in the lives of your students helps you play this role. As does encouraging them to let you know them beyond the knowledge transactions of class. They will let you know them if you bring your authentic, imperfect self to the classroom.