Podcast Episode 55: Reflections on a First Year of Teaching with Peter Rich

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Peter Rich, from Cornell’s Policy Analysis and Management Department, just finished his first year of college teaching. In this episode we focus on his big undergraduate class: Social Problems in America. Peter generously shares how he prepared, how it went, and what he learned from the experience.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

0:39 Welcoming Peter Rich. Teaching social problems as your first college teaching assignment.

4:09 Teaching undergraduates–for the first time. To textbook or not to textbook, that is the question. Not a textbook but parts of something textbook-like.

10:06 Teaching students with a range of preparation and interests. Introducing them to the major and the discipline. Teaching micro-aggressions the first day and using the discussion to define classroom climate.

14:43 Working with Kim Kenyon at the Cornell Center for Teaching Excellence. Learning at Cornell’s Faculty Institute for Diversity

17:06 Trying to make explicit what the students could expect from him, and using learning objectives to communicate goals and standards.

21:40 Worrying if you have the requisite mastery of the material to teach it.

26:23 Peter draws on his high school teaching and tutoring experiences. The flawed ‘banking approach’ to teaching: making deposits to the students’ knowledge. Peter builds his first syllabus. Picking reading you want to do–to stretch and think more as a generalist than a specialist. Getting gains from research in your teaching.

31:23 “This was probably the most intellectually engaging semester I had since starting grad school.” Learning about other literatures that shed light on your own. Inviting guest speakers (including Kelly Musick) to broaden the range of views and voices–and giving grad students experience teaching and lecturing.

38:28 Planning how class time is spent: the spreadsheet that didn’t work. Time management when lecturing. Wanting closure on the week’s topic. Using ClassroomDJ to get to know your students.

43:34 Edward suggests NOT looking for closure at the end of each lecture. Satisfying the students when some topics have little resolution. Doug’s strategies for creating continuity across class meetings.

46:56 Focusing on questions vs. answers. Pushing fundamental questions onto the students: an example from American film history. “Why this question?” is an important disciplinary meta-question. Peter: “Every way of seeing is also a way of not seeing.” Supporting students with unpopular opinions. Edward argues for perspectivism.

54:11 The Speed Round. What worked–and surprised you? Peter’s accountability system for helping students do the reading using iClicker. How to assign points for clicker questions and how to let students make up for questions they miss.

1:01:54 Last question. In teaching your first class, what did not go to plan? Starting with policy issues instead of ending them. Doug and Peter discuss grading group projects and handling group problems.

1:09:09 A teaching mistake: not knowing enough about one of the clips you show. Scholarly credibility is tricky.

1:13:32 An impressive performance teaching a first college course. Signing off.

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