Monday, November 13, 2006

Observation Day

This week included an observation of my class and the one-on-one debriefing with the professor in charge of the particular set of course sections. In general, my reviews seem to be consistent. I was described as energetic, fast-paced, engaging, and even motivational. It's always nice to imagine I might be inspiring some of the students.

In truth, as any instructor knows, half the evaluation depends on the students. I'm more than willing to admit that if the students weren't interested in the topic, motivated to get good grades, and generally self-motivated long before entering my classroom, then I wouldn't stand a chance. If the students had sat silently, or worse, then the review would have been different.

What no observation can measure is if the students are learning. In fact, I can't even measure that with a test, oral presentations, or homework. Real learning won't be revealed until years later. I'll never know if I'm really a good teacher until some past student tells me I did something valuable in a class.

My problem is that while I know I seem to have students engaged, I always wonder what they take from the course. It's a mixture of confidence and doubt. I don't won't to be entertaining... I want to be educational.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Observation Day... The Before

Tomorrow my class will be observed by one of the department professors. I have been nervous about this for nearly a week, even though my observations have always gone well in the past. Maybe it is the new setting, or maybe it is the fact the observer is also one of my instructors and probable doctorate examiner. (I'm not certain of the terminology -- there aren't any in my family.)

I always worry before a test, and this is definitely a test.

If things go well, I can raise my profile in the department and clarify to the professors why I am at the university. If things go poorly, I will probably want to hang my head in shame.

The observation is on a reasonably good day, assuming the students actually participate in the discussions. I have been struggling with getting students to speak up and assert themselves, so we'll have to see how that develops. The reason I believe it is a good day is that the topic is social ethics and civic responsibility. I know the topic will appeal to the observer in several ways.

Last week I asked students to anonymously list any organizations and causes they support, especially groups in which they are active. My goal was to illustrate how active students are, and that they do care about issues even if they don't like politics. I have typed a list of the responses and will distribute the list in class. This will help ground the discussion of what people do and why.

Students have also had three weeks to read and respond to a values survey from the University of Michigan. This survey is used to measure the values of different countries, but it is also very vague in some ways. I am hoping students find connections between their values and their activities. I also hope they see that these values and activities influence their receptiveness to various messages in the media.

Tonight, I'll e-mail the handouts to the observer and I'll place copies in his campus mailbox in the morning. I hope he finds the approach I take effective, both in the teaching of rhetorical theory and in the motivating of students as citizens. Let us hope this "test" goes well.