Friday, January 16, 2015

Getting crushed by the popular girl, er, prof.

Well, that was a hellish semester.

There was an evening lab, a semester of entirely new labs, construction in the building, taking over a course for an extremely popular professor and getting lambasted in comparison, widespread cheating in my grad level course, and tumbling from one missed deadline to the next.

The worst was the popular colleague. This feels like junior high, all those social comparison anxieties...

 Popular Prof is young, energetic and extremely capable. She implements all the most recent pedagogical techniques. Her courses are full of blooms taxonomy, metacognition, flipping, case studies, portfolios, POGILs, concept mapping, learning styles assessments, etc. It's extremely complicated and I have no idea how she grades all the components of it let alone prepares her 12-page syllabi explaining all the tasks the the students do. Its all well thought out in advance. Her lectures are clear and kind-sounding, and it just all comes across as so understandable. I also don't understand how she covers all the details in these lectures.

Other colleagues think she's the bees knees, and to top it all off, she just got a sizable research grant.

Oh, junior high insecurity, I so thought I was over you!

When I returned from sabbatical, I felt ready to make a change in my traditional methods. I lecture, and use the books' powerpoints, but I also do a lot of think-pair-share and tons of demos in courses. I have frequent low-stakes quizzes and a few activities. I don't know how to use the clickers, am not entirely convinced that the POGILs really work (weak students blow them off and just text during group time). I sought her advice, and she generously gave it to me (she's not a mean girl), and I tried to implement some of her methods, but they felt awkward and wrong for me.

This was a bit comforting at the time:

But, then the students we shared LAMBASTED, SCOURED, PILLORIED me on course evaluations, worse even than my first year teaching. They specifically cited my "incompetence" in comparison to Popular Prof.  Reading the course evals caused about 20 hours of darkness, and I am still questioning my career choice. However, I am bouncing back from the darkness, and I can recover mostly, as my evals have been good for years in that exact class. Some of the damage has been done, however, as my chair wants to meet with me regarding my "morale". Apparently comments I made here and there were noticed by the chair, so apparently I set off some red flag (see here for our institutional culture).  

I want to change my classroom style to become more student-centric. I want to learn from Popular Prof's successes, but now I am so overloaded that I don't have the capacity to make a change: no time, no energy, no resources, not intelligent enough to learn new software...on the short time. I will have to dedicate a summer to it. I will probably need to go to a conference or something to get me going, cause I'm not managing to do it by myself. That will be a nightmare of child care. Oh, well. Stop the whinin', PUI Prof. Just get it done, like the adult you are.

Any baby steps you can suggest?

Oh, PS, my sabbatical work final revision was just sent in today. It should be in press soon. :)



  1. Reread the section on teaching in Boice (Advice for New Faculty)-- he has some really good guiding principles that work really well with not letting these new teaching fads take all of your time. A big one is, "Let the students do the work for you." But you have to explain to students why what you're doing is helpful up front, otherwise they come up with their own stories that are not always flattering.

    And I agree that you don't want to be a carbon copy of this professor, you do want you to be you. Take what works for the students from you and don't take what doesn't. There are tons of different ways of getting students to learn, and that's a good thing.

    Also, I find partial flipping, case studies, and some meta-cognition stuff to be relatively painless. (I also like debates, student presentations, assignments to find misconceptions in the media, and policy briefs.) You might want to pick and choose a few things and not go whole hog.

    1. Thanks so much. I did another POGIL on Friday, and it seemed to go well. I will check it out.

  2. Negative evaluations are such a blow - I know it can take a while to recover from them. Reading some articles on the limitations of evaluations might help with the feeling better part.

    With respect to the doing better part, I'd keep in mind that you do all of this so that students can learn things. If a particular activity is a bad fit for you, even if it's "student-centric", it may be bad for learning. Before you do anything hard, I'd think hard about if it would improve student learning. And it if doesn't, don't worry about it. Popular Prof. can do what works well for her and you can do what you have proven works well.

    1. Thanks. Though I have "proven" methods, our students are changing (see previous post about adjusting to weaker students), and I can't stick tooo closely to what worked in the "old days". :)

  3. I am going to be very blunt -- all the flipping hullabaloo is total bullshit.
    Students may love it but, as someone who has taught follow-up courses after flipped-course instruction, I can attest that they learn little and are unable to do problems that they haven't explicitly been coached to do; they learn squat, but they feel great while doing it, hence the glowing evaluations and that's why they are all gaga.

    In my class a student suggested doing the flipped thing, but that's not happening on my watch. They need to do the work, and would prefer if I pre-chewed everything in bite-sized pieces so that they can seamlessly absorb the material without straining a neuron.


    1. Haha! Thanks for your perspective. I'm really enjoying it, perhaps a bit too much...