27 November 2005

On "Teacher's block"

Do you ever get the feeling that you haven't got anything to teach, or offer?

"Chance would be a fine thing! With the kind of syllabus I am supposed to deliver, that must be a luxury only a semi-retired academic could indulge!"

Fair point. But it is not that there isn't anything to teach, more a loss of conviction that the way you are doing it is actually helping people to learn. OK, the way I am doing it. I've been teaching for almost 40 years. I've taught this particular module for nine years. Its general shape is stable, and previous evaluations and achievement rates have been fine, but I have tuned the schemes of work from cohort to cohort, of course. I've reviewed those schemes from previous years, and somehow this time around they don't "work". And this may be the last time I teach this module.

So why the crisis of confidence? It's not that the group is unresponsive; far from it. They're lively and eager to learn (which makes it more of a challenge, of course, to meet expectations). The only significant difference was the way they handled the "menu" exercise at the beginning.

(That's an exercise in which we go through all the possible material for the module, pointing out that we can't cover it all in class, and so they have to select what we do cover and what we don't.) This time they handled it in a more sophisticated way than any previous group; they asked, "Which of this material can we get from reading books and the web, and which do we really need to discuss?" We worked out the schedule on that basis, which fits perfectly with the learning and teaching strategy of the course. Great.

I'm hoist with my own petard! I've put so much of the sheer module content on the web, that if I exclude that, there ain't much left. There's plenty of arcane and detailed stuff, of course, but since the module is an 80:20 situation (in this case, 80% of the ideas can be conveyed at the informational level in 20% of the time), more about values than facts, to do that would be otiose.

I should have recognised this coming last week, and not left the prep. until now. Still, no doubt the students will rescue me. In the past such sessions have really worked well, but I have got three hours to fill... (constructively). Well, I've got my conservative back-up stuff, but I'll quite enjoy winging it again!

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