Learning to Teach

It’s about time that I (Drew) wrote something on here. I just finished my first week of teaching college at Trinity – it’s already been quite a ride.

I’m manning the helm of two introductory courses in Philosophy, a more theoretical one dealing with world views and a more practical one dealing with ethics and economics. I abruptly about-faced from being a graduate student two weeks ago (when I successfully defended my thesis in Toronto) to being a professor last week at the first day of classes. I borrowed a half-dozen books on teaching from my colleagues (who were still my profs only three years ago), and I’ve been trying to catch up to speed on the whole education game. I’m really grateful for this opportunity, not only for the chance to share what I’ve learned with others but also to have academic discussions with students in a variety of fields. For instance, we talked the other day about ethical issues concerning social work as a profession and how they relate to one’s religious orientation. I’m excited to try to convince my students that philosophy is relevant to (and already present in) how they understand their own vocational disciplines, let alone their faith and life.

I’ve been trying to strike a balance between being both an authority figure and a fellow learner with my students. My graduate studies (in my field and school at least) were all about shared inquiry/research – professors were called “senior members”, students were called “junior members”, and we were all on a friendly first-name basis. Of course, something gets lost in translation in trying to adopt that collegial tone within a college atmosphere. My old choir teacher always told us, “I’m your friend, but I’m not your buddy.” That’s the chord I want to strike, so I’ve been trying to walk the fine line between being a fellow conversationalist/debater and being a credentialed authority on the subject of philosophy.
Also, many undergrads (understandably) are not used to a seminar format of learning where everyone is expected to contribute and every voice is valued, so these intro courses are a combination of lectures and class discussions. Thankfully, I’m learning that I really like to lecture… so much in fact that I limit myself to 20 minutes. I tend to think much more quickly on my feet in these classroom scenarios (unlike in the rest of my life). I’ve been trying to keep touching base with reference points I know the students share, like the rather shallow ways in which pop culture imagines the notion of “freedom” or the ambiguity of the name of “God” as it’s used in political speeches. Before I know it, I’ve filled two whiteboards with diagrams, timelines, definitions and word maps trying to illustrate and exemplify my philosophical sermons. Thankfully, the students seem to find it helpful – they wanted me to move my lecturing to the beginning of class so as to make the class discussion later more informed.

In addition to getting to spend class time with my students, I’ve been eager to touch base with some of my old professors who are now my colleagues. There are so many wise and kind women and men at Trinity with whom I’ve been eager to rekindle relationships, not only so that I can learn the ropes of teaching from them, but also just to bask in friendship with them again.

It’s good to be back.

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