At the beginning of every semester, I enter the classroom feeling like I’ve gotten a fresh start. Adding to that invigoration is the fact that teaching developmental students means we’re often getting students who are in college for the first time ever (or the first time in a long time) sitting in our classrooms. That mix of excitement, possibility, and a hint of fear is a little contagious. It’s one of the best parts of this work, this newness, this chance to start again.
I thought I would start this year off with a round-up of some of the links I’ve seen that have made me feel inspired for this new year either by giving me a new idea to try in the
classroom, helping to articulate thoughts about the nature of the discipline, or even pushing me outside of my comfort zone and making me reconsider current practices.
Conquering the Freshman Fear of Failure by David L. Kirp
This New York Times piece examines the seemingly simple act of having incoming students read upperclassmen’s accounts of their challenges with adapting to college life and how they overcame them. This knowledge acts as a way to challenge a fixed mindset in students who fear they are set to fail and teaches them that they are not alone in feeling like they don’t fit into the college environment, sparking more engagement and causing them to seek help when they’re struggling. It’s a nice reminder to look at college through fresh eyes (especially for those of us who haven’t been new to the scene in quite a while).
“When you’re starting college, you’re asking yourself whether you belong here. You’re ready to hear from someone like you, someone who has made it,” Claude Steele, a social psychologist at Berkeley and an iconic figure in the field, told me. “That’s especially important for a negatively stereotyped kid who feels he doesn’t fit in.”
Spirit Guides by William Deresiewicz
In this article from Slate, Deresiewicz explores the art of teaching in a way that flits back and forth between the esoteric and the practical. He says that students do not come to us for easy A’s and handouts; they want rigor and guidance from someone who genuinely cares about them, and he insists that the way we give them that is by modeling thinking through a raw honesty about who we are.
“For all the skill that teaching involves, you ultimately only have a single tool: your entire life as you have lived it up until the moment you walk into class.”
The Mighty published this video of things students with anxiety wished their teachers understood. It could potentially shine some light on some frustrating student behavior. It’s a reminder that sometimes students are fighting battles we’ll never even see.
If I Knew Then What I Know Now: Mistaking Compliance for Learning by Jaclyn Karabinas
The details of these experiences are rooted in a K-12 context, but the spirit of the post is universal to teaching: how do we create the classroom we envision, the classroom we know our students deserve? And how do we accept that we have to give up some control over trying to make it fit that fantasy?
“If your classroom were the world, would you want to live there? Our classrooms cannot be places where every move is predetermined by another person. The world doesn’t function that way.”
Do No Harm: Flexible and Smart Grading Practices by Andrew Miller
Turning from a big picture, philosophical view of the classroom to a look at the daily details, this post touches on something I’ve been thinking about a lot: how to make my classroom more flexible to ensure students who can succeed do succeed. Grading practices need to hold students accountable for their work, but they also need to allow for mistakes and growth. There are several practical methods for doing that presented here. I’m partial to the “Request to Retest” and am thinking about ways to implement it this semester.
It’s Time to Ditch Our Deadlines by Ellen Boucher
Along similar lines, this Chronicle of Higher Education post questions the reliance on strict deadlines and suggests that they disproportionately impact students from underrepresented backgrounds because they don’t know how to negotiate the unspoken rules of college.
“The problem with a rigid policy on lateness is that it compounds students’ stress at a time when they are already overwhelmed. It’s tailor-made to produce the sort of behavior that has frustrated professors for generations: shoddy work (submitted just to get something in), panicked cheating, or disappearing students (from the course, or worse, from the university altogether).”
How to Email Your Professor (without being annoying AF) by Laura Portword-Stacer
I’ve mostly let go of email etiquette expectations, but I know that I’m not the only professor students will be emailing, and I know that their long-term college communication habits would be much improved if they just had some simple, straightforward guidelines to help them write the kind of email that will be viewed favorably by even the most discerning professorial eye. This article gives them that, and I wish someone had made it this clear for me when I was first learning to navigate these treacherous exchanges.
If you’re looking for some ongoing sources of great links, discussions, and suggestions, I highly recommend following the Council on Basic Writing on Facebook. (And while you’re there, be sure to “like” Developing Writers, too!)
What have you been reading that’s gotten you in the back-to-school spirit?
Image: Ghenady (used under Creative Commons license)