Thursday, August 14, 2008

It's Show Time

Did you, by any chance, see the movie "All That Jazz"? In the opening sequence, Roy Scheider, who plays the lead character based on director/choreographer Bob Fosse, starts his day. After he gets up, he goes through morning ablutions--he puts on a classical music tape, puts eyedrops in his eyes, downs a glass of Alka-seltzer, opens a bottle of amphetamines, pops a couple, slaps his cheeks, then opens his eyes wide looking in the mirror and pronounces "It's show time!"

Well, folks, it's show time. In less than a week, classes resume at my community college. For the past several weeks, I have been poring over textbooks, once again retooling my course. I don't quite know why I do this--I could practically teach this course with my eyes (and textbooks) closed. But I don't. Every so often, I try to reconfigure the basic approach to the course.

Partly, I do this to keep the material fresh for me, but also I do this because the students deserve to have an instructor who is fully engaged with her material.

You might think this is only appropriate--and what every instructor would do. And you would be wrong if you thought that.

I have heard stories to the contrary. Three instances come to mind.

First, several years ago, as I walked down the hall of the building where I teach, I passed a classroom. The professor holding class was using an overheard projector, and had a PURPLE copy of a document projecting on the screen. So, you ask. Well, purple copies can only mean one thing. The document had to be at least 30 years old, produced by a spirit duplicator process long abandoned. If the document was so good, why on earth not have it retyped by word processing and printed anew? I'll let you draw your own conclusion as to why.

Second, I have been told of a professor who tends to do his course introduction by showing a video tape of himself giving the course intro. OK. But, this particular video was made when he first started teaching, more than 30 years ago. He even jokes to current classes about how young he looked then. Really! Wow. I am speechless--how can a course NOT change in 30 years?

Finally, a student I know remarked that the professor she had for a course, that included using maps, had outdated maps. How did the student know? The maps featured the OLD names for countries. And, no, this was not a history course where knowing that once a place was called Asia Minor, and is now called Turkey. Or once this area was part of the Ottoman Empire and is now independent. This was a course about current issues. Yet the professor used outdated maps. When that fact was called to his attention, his response was to be hostile to the student who had pointed this out. You would think that a course on current issues would NEED to have CURRENT material, wouldn't you?

Now, before any of you thinks this post is a rant against tenured faculty, let me stop you. I am wholeheartedly in favor of tenure. Education needs to be independent of the political whims that toss public thinking back and forth. A teacher in the classroom should not be bullied by a parent who happens to sit on the school board, or who might belong to the same country club as the college president, or who may have more money to give to the college than someone else. A teacher should not be harassed because she belongs to a particular political party.

But I do fault fellow faculty for being lazy, or insufficiently devoted to their chosen profession that they do not do all they can to give students a quality education.

Next week, I will open my eyes, blink a couple of times , eschew the pills Bob Fosse used, and head to the classroom. I will announce my name, inform students this is English Comp, in case they have wandered into the wrong classroom, and the show will begin.


possumlady said...

Can I just say that I LOVED All that Jazz, especially Roy Scheider and have seen it numerous times!!

I imagine the students can tell when a professor is "phoning it in" by the end of the first class. How sad and how boring it must be for both students AND the professor.

Good for you for constantly retooling/updating your course! If you are passionate about the subject you teach I can't imagine NOT doing a little research and updating after each year. I mean just for your own intellectual curiousity.

Best of luck next week!!

NCmountainwoman said...

My son is working as an associate professor at a well-known university while persuing his doctorate. While he has had some less than stellar professors himself, he was appalled at the lack of enthusiasm and interest of some of the professors with whom he works.

His goal is to be a college professor and I'm sure his interest and enthusiasm will continue. He works so hard for every student. There should be more like him out there.

No matter where the workforce, there are always some people who are coasting and not really eager to change. Too bad; for them and for the students.

Ginger said...

I have faculty in our university who, every 3-5 years, throw out all their syllabi and notes. They tell me that it helps them keep their scholarship and teaching fresh. I stand and applaud!

Ginger said...

Perhaps I should have added that they start all over, building their course from scratch. (I recognize the other option is that they "wing it," which isn't true!)

Beverly said...

Excellent post. I just mentioned those purple papers in my latest post.

I heard someone say once that some teachers have thirty years experience, others have one year's experience thirty times.

JeanMac said...

Good post - and good luck:)

nina said...

I think many underestimate how much time and effort a truly good teacher puts into preparing for class. Far too many assume the career is chosen by those who want summers off and an "easy" life of canned lectures. (My parents and husband are all in teaching)
I'm glad you point out this difference and allow others to see what your concern for it as more than a job.

Dog_geek said...

Your post reminds me of this quote:

"The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn't need its brain anymore so it eats it! (It's rather like getting tenure.)"

~Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained

Ginnie said...

You have one of the most important jobs in our country. I just hope your students respond and it will make it exciting for everyone.

Climenheise said...

I know too well what you mean about the danger of coasting on the basis of past courses. I also keep tying to reconfigure courses and retain some sort of freshness; but I know that every year I am also a year further away from some of what I teach. I'm closer to some other elements of my field, so it balances out. But the struggle to combine wisdom (a complement of age) with freshness is constant.

Climenheise said...

I was reading your post to Vaughn and came across this sentence: "For the past several weeks, I have been pouring over textbooks, once again retooling my course."

This led me to wonder what you were pouring over your texts to keep them fresh? Oh the perils of blogging! It's still a wonderful post.

femail doc said...

Perhaps another mac n' cheese casserole in your immediate future?