Semester End Reflection Leaves More Questions than Answers

This is a meta-reflection rather than my more traditional course reflection.

Well, I’m embarrassed to write it out loud, but I think one of the biggest things that I learned this Fall is that after 12 years of teaching these wonderful students, the process of taking my teaching from a B+ to A level takes just as much work as it does to get it to a B+ level to begin with.  In other words, if it takes me 10 hours a week to get one course to a B+ level, it probably takes me 20 hours a week to get it to where I really feel good about it. I’m embarrassed because let’s face it: B+ isn’t good enough.

Or is it?

That’s a really tough question for me that I just don’t know the answer to. For my students this semester, B+ was good enough. They learned what they needed to learn, I *think* they have a really good chance at retaining what they need to retain, they had a great attitude about the work, they were open to my leadership, they took ownership when asked, they developed skills that I think are important for musicians, and many of them loved me to a point that was embarrassing. Part this success probably comes from the way the class was cobbled together (see here for a summary)–the cards were already stacked towards creating fertile ground for bonding opportunities.

How important is that extra 100% effort on my part?

For me, it is part of what makes me happiest.  Teaching well and having the time to do my best is a luxury I didn’t appreciate until I started juggling a massive number of other things at the same time.

For most of the students, what I was able to accomplish was more than sufficient. For all of my students, I am incredibly proud of what they learned while maintaining enthusiasm for the subject that they were so worried about on Day 1.

For two of my 17 students, however, I think I could have made a difference in their academic lives if I had had more time to invest in them. For one, it might have resulted in passing the course. For the other, it might have provided a kick in the pants that would make the rest of college a little bit easier. That’s depressing.  Two is a lot.  It’s not that I didn’t try, but it’s that I could’ve tried harder and perhaps my efforts would have been more fruitful if I had tried harder to get these students into my office for some very honest conversations about ability, work ethic, student skills, etc. (on the flip side, through my deanly work I made a difference in far more than two students’ lives, albeit in a far less personal way…).

I remain troubled about what this realization of the pay-off for my investment of time means. When I return to teaching full-time, should I put those 10 hours a week into my research instead of my teaching? I sure do like putting them into my teaching, but it’s probably not going to make a long-term difference to my career (and my career goals) if I put them into teaching.

Does that mean I need to re-evaluate my career goals? (ya know, full professorship, maybe doing a visiting professorship abroad with the family in tow, etc.)

A wise colleague spoke of how awkward the 12-year point of an academic career is. Indeed, this moment of my career leaves me with far more questions than answers…

Time Out! four-month reflection on deanly duties

I’ve been wearing one extra hat this semester, adding “temporary dean-type” to the various kinds of family, community, and teacher hats that I wear. I haven’t learned all that much new about myself, but the process of wearing multiple hats has helped me clarify who I am and where I want to go.

I love to teach. I do it well, and even though I’m a naturally happy person, I always find a special kind of happy when I’m in the classroom.

I have ideas.  Scholarly ideas. Publishable ideas. Once I regain some of that time that I’m losing this academic year, I look forward to getting some work out there. In the meantime, I’m keeping a brainstorming file.

I have the makings of an effective administrator. But I work at a place that is already functioning at a very high level (I know how lucky I am!). I have amazing colleagues. From time to time, I hear people at other institutions say “I’m looking to have more impact,” meaning they want to move into administration. Other than keeping the cogs of a well-oiled machine running smoothly, I don’t find that the work of a mid-level administrator at my institution has much impact. Yes, I recognize that maintaining the status quo is difficult and important when the status quo is pretty darn good.  And, I’ll totally admit that it’s fun, detail ridden, challenges my people skills, and also makes me happy. But it’s not the same as teaching and watching/hearing the light bulbs go on in students’ heads.

So far I think I have three take-aways from the first four months: (1) I have completely accepted that doing my best will mean that sometimes I’ll still make mistakes.  I’m not even losing sleep over it.  (2) I’m going to be much more productive with my time now that I’m learning some tricks for better managing it! (3) I’m more creative, more effective, and happier when I’m busy.  I’ve always kinda known this about myself; this year is just putting it to the test in a very extreme way…  I’m just not a lady of leisure.

I wanted to write this post about the awesomeness of my intensive music theory experience. But it morphed into something else…
Posts to write this week (it’s fall break!): effectiveness of daily homework, awesomeness of low-stakes podcasts, and some reflections on why the class dynamic this semester ended up being so good.


MOOCs and Music Theory Pedagogy

So, I’ve been watching some of the discussion on massive open online courses (MOOCs) and notice some parallels with things I, and others, experiment with in our music theory classrooms. In discussing the rise of online education, David Brooks’s recent OpEd in the NYTimes, “The Practical University (April 4, 2013),” explores the question that helps me define my pedagogy: “What is a university for?” Continue reading

How does blogging help your teaching?

So, I opened up my institution’s weekly pedagogy email this morning intending to read and blog about the pedagogy article that would be included.  Oops.  The email was advertising my upcoming stint as “guide” at the next brown-bag pedagogy session. I love the brown bag sessions. I try to make at least two a year and I always walk away with two things I value a lot: new ideas percolating away and a strong sense of community built around the shared goal of being a better teacher. Also, I love meeting people who teach different subjects! I am excited and, of course, honored to be leading the next one.

I’ll be starting our April brown-bag discussion with the question featured in this post’s title…  I’ll have several ideas for where discussion could go, but am excited to experience where discussion actually will go. Continue reading

Practice what you Preach…

So, it’s time to really model what I believe in. I’ve been invited to come do a 2.5-hour lecture/workshop at my friend and colleague Jena’s pedagogy class. I’ve thought carefully about what I want to do and feel that it is essential to model as many of my most passionately-held beliefs as possible. On the top of my mind is transparency, movement, honesty, risk-taking, and reflection. Here’s some of the decisions I’ve made: Continue reading

cool pedagogy intersections: engineering and the rest of the world

My friend Sarah recommended The Journal of Engineering Education to me as a really solid and totally awesome source of pedagogy research. So, I went and looked at the most recent issue (October 2012) and picked the article that called to me the strongest: “The Informed Design Teaching and Learning Matrix.” Authored by David P. Crismond (CUNY, City College) and Robin S. Adams (Purdue University), it is a huge article (40 large pages of single-spaced prose before the 20 pages of citations), incredibly well-grounded in previous research, and meticulously written/organized. It inspired many ideas for my classrooms and I was regularly amazed by the universality a lot of what they recommend: it applies to my own learning, parenting, classroom teaching, one-on-one teaching, mentoring, and probably a number of other things I’m forgetting at the moment.

These authors are focused on how engineering design is taught and learned. By design, they refer to the process of creating an object/solution (such as a parachute) according to given parameters. They present their findings as a matrix (table) that “contains nine engineering design strategies and associated patterns that contrast beginning versus informed design behaviors, with links to learning goals and instructional approaches that aim to support students in developing their engineering design abilities.” (p. 738) This sounds intimidating, but it is very cool. The bulk of the article and –for me– the most thought-provoking is the section “Unpacking the Matrix.” Each of the nine patterns is discussed in two sub-sections: a summary/description and teaching strategies.  What a goldmine!  Here are three of my three favorite “ah ha!” moments. I have organized them from the most general to the most specific, in terms of “field of study.” Continue reading

2013 (January – August) Pedagogy Project

So, I’m on my first sabbatical.  This is my 11th year teaching here (nine years on the tenure track), and I have been very lucky to have 1.5 semesters of maternity leave and a mid-probationary leave since starting the tenure track. The maternity leaves delayed my first post-tenure sabbatical by two years, which (a) seems right and (b) is part of why people who take parental leave are slower to progress through the academic pipeline, but it’s finally HERE! Since I won’t be in the classroom, I have a slightly different project for this blog: Continue reading

Semester Wrap-Up with Myself

Sounds kind of silly, but I have a little ritual for closing up my semester. I clean out my course binder of extra photocopies, remove stuff from previous semesters that I didn’t use this semester and can’t imagine using in future semester, write a course reflection, insert reflection into the front of the binder, and put away the binder.

Even though I’m exhausted, I think it’s important to do the course reflection NOW while the semester’s experience is still fresh. Here’s how I go about it: Continue reading

Mirror Mirror on the Wall…

… which post was the fairest of them all?  I am not referring to this blog; rather, this question was posed to my upper-division students in their final informal out-of-class writing assignment. Over the course of the semester, they have written at least once a week in a GoogleDoc visible to me and that student [I resist the urge to call it a journal.]. Each time, they respond to a prompt. I grade these P/nP. To P, you have to follow directions and present your own thinking. I also respond (usually in a colored font) to their ideas and thoughts, which often starts a conversation between us within the GoogleDoc. Here are a few examples of prompts, which ran the gamut from hard core to touchy-feely. Continue reading

Keeping it fresh: four weeks to go

I’m exhausted.  We’re at that point in the semester where it seems like it will never end.  And, owing to a quirk of the solar calendar, there are THREE weeks of teaching after Thanksgiving instead of the traditional two.  I find myself worried about keeping an appropriate level of energy and excitement in my classes.

One of the weirdest things about earning tenure is that, suddenly, your teaching isn’t critically observed any more. It’s been three years since someone has visited my classroom with the intent to help me evaluate my own teaching (I have had many guests there to observe my so-called “good” teaching, but–for obvious reasons to do with experience and power structures–they rarely offer feedback on what they saw). I invited my long-time mentor and friend to come in last week to give me his outsider’s perspective on two things: (1) how high or low I am setting the bar in my class, and (2) strategies for raising it. Here’s what he thought and what we talked about over lunch after class. Continue reading