Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pedagogy and Methodology of Teaching

A huge problem with college-level teaching in North America is that most professors get absolutely no training in pedagogy and methodology of teaching. We, the teachers in foreign languages and literature, are lucky in this respect because normally you can't get the PhD in this kind of discipline without extensive training in methodology. In many other disciplines, though, it is somehow assumed that if you are knowledgeable in your subject, you will automatically be a good teacher. This couldn't be further from the truth.

Whenever I have a chance to observe my colleagues from other departments interact with students, I always realize how crucial it is for college profs to have at least some knowledge of pedagogy and methodology. If you can't communicate with the students on a non-verbal level, if you don't know how to create a psychologically safe space in the classroom or how to inscribe yourself into the group dynamics of the class (which is different every single time), if you have never been trained to deal with the class clown, the depressed student, the romantic couple, the loud-mouth, the defiant student, the compulsive liar, the ADHD student, etc., if you have no idea how to tune into the emotional wavelength of the students, if when you plan your classes you never think about the pedagogic rationale behind the activities you assign, you will not be as effective as you could be.

I know how to make any group of students feel immediately comfortable in my presence. This is why I always get such high student evaluations, even though I'm a very tough grader and assign insane loads of homework. In spite of autism, it feels like I can flip a switch inside my head every time I enter the classroom and turn on my teaching persona, which is extremely different from my real life personality. This is why I always freak out so badly at the end of the long summer holidays: I'm always terrified that I've lost the skills and the teaching persona will fail to turn on at the start of the Fall semester.


sarcozona said...

In my field, I'll be expected to teach everything from introductory to graduate classes with absolutely no training (other than actually being in front of a class). I feel sorry for my students already.

Pagan Topologist said...

I do have a problem teaching advanced mathematics to students who are not native English speakers, and who have a poor command of the language. I am not sure whether instruction in pedagogy would have helped me or not. The good students learn to cope with my style, but I don't really have any idea how to make it easier for them. I did work as a TA for three years in grad school, and I think the supervision there helped some, as did the fact that I had had some tutoring experience as an undergrad.

Snarky Writer said...

I'm lucky enough to be in a TA program, so I'm learning how to teach composition while I'm teaching composition. Later, I may have the opportunity to learn how to teach literature. Will any of this translate when (if) I move on and get to teach at the graduate level? No idea. Kind of terrified at the thought, actually.