TEACHING: NARRATIVE & SUPPORTING MATERIALS (50%)

I am a teacher, first and foremost.  All other academic endeavors (particularly those of research and service) are derived from this sense of my identity.  I came to the University of Wisconsin - Superior in part because of its rich history as a training ground for educators.  Like me, teaching is at its heart. And so my first semester (Fall 2016) has been one dedicated to laying a strong teaching foundation for the future, a commitment that I believe is comprised of the two critical components laid out by Boyer (1990).  The first critical component is the dedication to "stimulate active, not passive, learning" (Boyer, 1990, p.24). The second is the need for all teachers to embrace the truth that "good teaching means that faculty, as scholars, are also learners (Boyer, 1990, p.24). Both of these elements are explored in earnest below and provide the context for a narrative reflection on my Fall 2016 teaching efforts. Supporting materials are provided where appropriate.

 

Course Syllabi

I had the privilege of teaching TED 339: Instructional & Assessment Strategies (on campus) and SSED 331: Teaching Elementary & Middle School Social Studies (on campus and online) this first semester. The syllabi for each course can be viewed at right (click on the images to read the syllabus of your choosing). Please note the syllabus for the online section of SSED 331 was the same as the syllabus for the on-campus section, and is therefore not duplicated.  For this first semester, I decided to experiment with syllabus design - a process I described at length in a blog post which can be read HERE, if you are interested.  Relative to future syllabi, I plan to offer more details regarding the course schedule and pacing of content.  While there are no specific student complaints in the evaluations that are driving this change, I feel that more details communicate a greater sense of course organization and planning.

In general, these courses opened my eyes to the extraordinary talents and passion of the students in our program. I learned quite a bit about my teaching and how to best move forward and improve for subsequent semesters.  What I learned and my plans for acting on that learning are outlined in detail below.

 

  To read Fall 2016 Evaluations, click image above.

To read Fall 2016 Evaluations, click image above.

With this vision, great teachers create a common ground of intellectual commitment. They stimulate active, not passive, learning and encourage students to be critical, creative thinkers, with the capacity to go on learning after college days are over.

                    -Ernest L. Boyer, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate

While 21st century technology allows instant access to research and content, this research and content are continually evolving.  The challenge of the professor, therefore is not to find information related to their discipline, but rather to curate that information.  For this reason, I made it a goal (shared with the Educational Leadership Department on October 5th, 2016) to enhance my classroom teaching and the experience of my students by seeking out quality supplementary resources for the Fall 2016 semester. I wanted students to finish their courses with a strong sense that they were well informed and up to speed on a variety of pertinent educational topics. This goal (though certainly ongoing) was partially realized by the end of the term, as I enlisted the help of my students to select and facilitate a discussion on a journal article that they found particularly important for the field of teaching. This, coupled with my own efforts to remain on top of the literature, fostered a classroom culture in which knowledge sharing and reciprocity became the norm (rather than just knowledge transmission from the professor to student). While this is just one example, it highlights my belief that "knowing and learning are communal acts" (Boyer, 1990, p.24), and that the act of communal learning can be more powerful, more stimulating, and more encouraging that the conventional model knowledge transmission model.  This was a very real learning moment for me as a teacher. And in the end, it was manifest in the course evaluations (click image at right), as students noted that they did indeed feel empowered, stimulated and encouraged.

 

Further, good teaching means that faculty, as scholars, are also learners.  Through reading, through classroom discussion, and surely through comments and questions posed by students, professors themselves will be pushed in creative new directions.

                    -Ernest L. Boyer, Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate

In addition to diving deeply into the content for my courses (books, journals, etc.), my first semester teaching at the university has also engendered new curiosities.  Reading papers, class discussion and individual dialogue with students has led me down numerous rabbit holes, particularly when it comes to pre-service teacher perceptions of the social sciences (which I've found are, on the whole, quite negative). And so I am finding myself pushed to found out what is influencing these perceptions and what might be the implications of such a position.  Interestingly enough, analysis of the course evaluations (click image at right above) shows that it is possible to overcome negative dispositions toward the social sciences and even create new passion and enthusiasm for the discipline. This represents additional lines of inquiry, all of which I plan to explore in the next year (see Scholarly Activity portion of the portfolio for more details).

 

Additional Reflection on Fall 2016 Course Evaluations

In gathering data for this first year portfolio, I spent a significant amount of time reading/re-reading the Fall 2016 course evaluations. I am very pleased with the results and am happy to have contributed to the already solid work of the department and its members.  I commit to maintaining a passionate, enthusiastic, relational attitude in 2017.  I will also continue to scaffold assignments, as noted by several students in the evaluations.

Positives aside, there are two things I learned from the course evaluations that I will be working on in 2017.  First, I will seek to improve the field experience portion of my classes in order to maximize its value for the students.  This was the most consistent suggestion shared by students, relative to course improvement.  I will do this by possibly extending the completion window, and offering more work time for students in the class itself.  And if time permits, I would like to visit a few more students in the field (I was only able to schedule visits with three individuals in the Fall of 2016).  Second, one student noted in the course evaluation for TED 339 that he/she felt I was upset with him/her for being sick (and that I did not welcome this person to class as I had before their absence).  While this is just one voice - just one comment - I am motivated to make sure that students ALWAYS feel welcomed and cared for in my courses.  A student should never feel otherwise - at least not in my classroom.

 

Advising

I look forward to advising students beginning in the Fall of 2017. In preparation, I will be attending new advisor training sessions (four in all) this upcoming spring.  As an advisor, it will be my goal to provide personal attention and wise counsel to students, while also cultivating healthy relationships with these soon-to-be alumni/UWS ambassadors.