Showing posts from August, 2011

Addressing Bad Habits

A lot of your college students have been students for most of their lives. They have been trained by all of the teachers who came before you. Unfortunately, the students have not always been well-trained. They pick up bad habits. And, they don’t even realize they have those bad habits. So, on my first day of class (this past Monday), I tried to alert my students that I wanted something very specific from them and what I wanted might just be different from what previous teachers had wanted. No matter how successful they had been in the past, they needed to realize that they might have to adapt. “Here’s exactly what I want from you this semester. I want you to get to a point where you can be presented with a fresh and unique situation and then figure out how to respond or act based on what we’ve learned previously or what you have uncovered in your studies. It seems so simple: (a) fresh situation, (b) figure it out, (c) based on what we have learned or you’ve found. H

What the Catcher Tells the Pitcher

Occasionally, when I am driving home from work, I’m able to listen to a show called “Fresh Air” which is on NPR (National Public Radio). In it, Terry Gross (or an associate) will interview some interesting person. The discussions are often fabulous. One day last week, I was able to listen to the show for just 4-5 minutes but, during that time, I heard something that really caught my attention. I have thought a lot about what I heard ever since that time and pondered its connection with my dealings with students. The person being interviewed was Brad Ausmus who retired recently as a catcher in baseball. He played in the major leagues for 18 years and is 7th on the all-time list for the number of games caught by one person. If you follow baseball at all, you know that occasionally (especially when things are going badly) the catcher runs out to the mound for a quick talk with the pitcher. Probably like every other baseball fan, I’ve always wondered what the catcher can pos

The Very First Question

My first class of the 2011-2012 academic year will be next Monday at 9 a.m. If you have followed this blog for long, you know that I only teach by using a Socratic Method approach. I distribute questions in advance and then discuss those or related questions for the entire class time. I want a thoughtful conversation. This allows me to stick with my 50-50 goal (I do 50 percent of the talking and they do 50 percent of the talking). I am a big believer that it is important to get each new class off to the proper start. You set a tone at the beginning that carries through for the entire semester. If you are funny, they’ll expect you to be funny from now on. If you do 100 percent of the talking, they’ll assume that this is the way you teach every single day. Consequently, I spend a lot of time thinking about the tone I am creating during that first class. By now, I have already sent my students 4-5 emails so I fully expect them to be prepared on Monday morning and ready to


In 9 days, I will begin my 41st year in the classroom. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to do it all once again. Teaching is just the greatest profession. One of the things that I love about teaching is that there is always more to learn. It is such a complex art. No matter how long you’ve done it, there are insights that suddenly seem brand new. At this time of year, even things you’ve thought about before suddenly seem totally fresh and invigorating. Unless you just let yourself, there’s never a reason for a teacher to fall back on auto-pilot. As the new academic year is set to begin, it is not a bad idea for every teacher to pause and consider what actually makes up good teaching. Not “average” teaching or “mediocre” teaching or “getting by” teaching but good teaching where you make a real difference in the lives of your students. I went to a movie today with my daughters. The movie was titled “Buck” and was about a man who has spent his life training horses