Who Teaches College Professors How to Teach?

Jason Fertig

I have a dirty little secret.  No one has ever taught me how to teach - and that's the single biggest reason I still love teaching. 

I had to teach myself how to teach.  The only thing that came close to formal instruction was the receipt of senior faculty "hand me downs" - PowerPoint slides and syllabi - and good luck pat on the back.  That was as useful as walking into class wearing another person's expensive custom-made suit and thinking that I looked good.  

Thankfully, good teaching is an art, not a science.  Success relies on self-exploration of what I've coined your Three S's - Stuff, Students, and Self.

If new teachers want to be good, they must know their stuff.  No one teaches well when he learns the class material a few hours before his students enter the classroom. 

But good teaching does not stop there.  Who are your students?  I'm not referring to knowing that they are tech-savvy young people who want flexible work arrangements.  I mean know your class.  Any athletes?  Anyone have a pet fish?  What other courses are they taking?  That seemingly trivial information is valuable for connecting with your students as real people.  If you do that, you’ll likely find out that they don’t bite.

Additionally, new teachers need to be self-aware because the “all eyes on you” nature of the classroom will force that out.  For example, academia attracts introverts - such people can be great teachers, but they shouldn’t try to be Tony Robbins.  On the flip side, natural facilitators can stifle they own enthusiasm by imprisoning themselves in an abundance of PowerPoint slides because “everyone else does.”

If you do nothing else before you enter a classroom, know your Three S’s.  For anyone seeking even more in-depth guidance, allow me to give a shout out to Jeff Anderson’s new book, The Skinny on Teaching: What You Don’t Learn in Graduate School.  Dr. Anderson really gets the art of teaching.  From his discussion of how to lecture to his advocacy of primary source material, his book is worth reading for those who are serious about being a star in the classroom.  His numerous thoughtful essays are worth it too.

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