Seven Things I am Realizing

Only 7 of the million things I am realizing this year:

#1: Organization. I need to become better organized. In past, when most of my job was mostly being a researcher or student with teaching just on the side, I could be pretty dis-organized about teaching and it had few consequences. Once teaching became most of my job, organization has become key, but I’m way behind the curve on this one.

#2: Teaching Colleagues: Teaching an inquiry course like the one I am trying to do with the future elementary school teachers requires a lot of time and mental effort, and it really benefits from having teaching collaborators.  In the past when I’ve taught this kind of course, I was either co-teaching it or had plenty of people around who had taught a similar course. This year, this course I have is a lot harder to teach by myself, without colleagues to talk about the student ideas’ I am hearing. I am finding myself much worse off because I can’t engage in nearly daily discussions about where we might go and what we could do next.

#3 Evaluator/Teacher: There is a bit of me that really likes the fact that I don’t write the exams for my physics course, and there a bit of me that hates it. I like it, because it clearly puts me in the role of teacher and not evaluator. It’s my job to help them learn.  It’s someone else job to write a test that tries to assess that learning. I don’t like it, because I don’t feel like the tests are a good measure of learning.

#4 For students, especially students from other countries and certain minorities, academic and social isolation can be a big problem. I don’t know what to do about it, but it is something I am more and more aware of being here.

#5: I was really, really lucky not to have to work and go to school at the same time during college years. This was in part due to scholarships and in part due to my parents. So many students I know here work full time. Sure, I wrestled full-time in college. But wrestling was something I loved and I did it by choice. If I stopped wrestling, I wasn’t going to evicted or starve. Oh wait, I did starve myself often due to wrestling.

#6: It is a struggle to find time and mental space for research. This is both because I am teaching more, and teaching new classes. But it is also a struggle with fewer colleagues around. I am very very thankful for colleagues who keep tabs on me: Those who ask me to be part of writing or reading groups. Those who offer to help getting a paper out the door. Those who ask if I want to work on writing a grant together. Those who invite me to give talks. Without those people, it would be easy to disappear.

#7: In teaching, a lot of things matter in the day-to-day management of a classroom. Sometimes it’s the big things. Sometimes it’s the little things. I’ve learned that even if you have a handle on at a lot of the important stuff, it is still easy for things to go bad and go bad quickly because one small thing. Having established some rapport with your students (as individuals and a class), especially, about who you are as a teacher and how you care about your students as learners, can go a long way toward not letting a slip become a fall.

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