It’s the last week of classes and perhaps you have started to reflect on how things went this term. Whether you’re a new or a seasoned instructor, there is always room for improvement. Early in my teaching career I wish I would have asked more questions of those who had already made the same mistakes I had made and had learned how to do things better. Instead, I stumbled along, figuring things out the hard way. My list of fumbles is loooooong. I was reminded about my mis-steps as I read this morning, two articles from The Teaching Professor where both a newbie and an old timer reflected on their teaching careers. I thought I would share their learnings; perhaps you will relate as I did to what they had to say:

Graham Broad (2019) on the things he did badly during his first five years of teaching:

  1. Not taking advantage of research on pedagogy. Few of us have ever been taught HOW to teach. Most of us do our jobs purely by instinct, teaching how we were taught. It’s probably not enough and our entire Teaching Excellence collection in the OSU-Cascades library can help! Check it out.
  2. Chastising the whole class. Calling out an entire class for poor attendance usually means we’re preaching to the choir. Handling our problems with students on a one-on-one basis is usually the best way to go.
  3. Being defensive about student complaints. We teach our students to be critical of what they hear and read, so we shouldn’t feel indignant when they challenge us a bit.
  4. Answering student emails at all hours. Teachers are entitled to a private life so stating on your syllabus when you will answer emails communicates to your students that you don’t live to serve them. As Broad lightheartedly points out to his class, “students somehow muddled by for thousands of years without email at all.”
  5. Egotism. Even the best pedagogy won’t reach students who don’t want to be reached, and your “style” may not be every student’s cup of tea.

Fast forward 35 years into a teaching career and learn from John Kenneth Galbraith’s short critique of his own shortcomings. Galbraith says these are the things he wished he would have learned NOT to do:

  1. Assume I could teach without knowing anything about it and never having done it. Most new instructors, are surprised that teaching is so HARD! Being confident about the material does not a good teacher make. Like Broad, he recommends we get in touch with research on pedagogy.
  2. Lecture too often – and for way too long. “Teaching” is not “telling” and we should not be better at answering questions than asking them. Practice critical teaching (and learning) by having students discover things on their own.
  3. Assume learning is the automatic, inevitable outcome of good teaching. We should not be so enamored with performing for our students that our teaching lacks purpose. If all students remember is your stories then they likely have not learned what you wanted them to learn.
  4. Make judgments about students. As Galbraith reminds, we won’t always be correct, bias reduces our objectivity, and every student deserves our confidence in their abilities. Try having your students put their names on the BACK of their papers so you don’t know whose work you’re grading. You may be shocked by the outcome.

Do you have an insight to share? Comment below!

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2 thoughts on “Learning From Our Mistakes

  1. One of the things I’m really interested in is how we are taught to teach in our own disciplines (perhaps it’s because I must keep up on writing pedagogy and writing across the curriculum pedagogy for my position). I was struck by Broad’s comment above about not taking advantage of all of the research and writing done on the pedagogy of our discipline because I think this is true. Here is a journal I follow closely, which provides prompts on the teaching of writing across disciplines:

    I love this journal because it literally published prompts that any of us can take advantage of and adopt for our own classrooms. I hope y’all find it useful as well!


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