The Old College Try: You’re On Candid Camera!

One week from today will mark the end of the first day of classes for the spring semester–hard to believe I’ve been off campus for an entire month!  During my extensive break, I’ve tried to spend a little working on tweaking some of my teaching methods and lessons.  I was able to do so through a 3 day, 25 – workshop–the Instructional Skills Workshop–that focused primarily on how one teaches in the classroom and receiving immediate feedback for areas to maintain and those to improve upon.   Just as I tell my students to have someone else proof their papers, this too served to provide 5 sets of eyes on my teaching to catch any “trouble spots.”

This workshop was geared specifically for instructors in the state community college system, so it was good to know that the people evaluating me were colleagues who understood the standards to which I work–even if they taught at a different school than my own.  Each of us had to give one 10 minute lesson of our choosing (being video recorded all the while), and then leave immediately after completion so everyone could complete their lesson evaluations.  Then, we were brought back in, seated in front of the class, and the facilitators then proceeded to lead the workshop in a discussion of the pros and cons of the lesson–the whole time of which the one up front could not speak.  It was until after about 15 minutes of this affirmation and constructive criticism that the presenter was then able to respond, clarify, and question the instructors who evaluated him or her.  Once finished, our facilitators handed us our DVD and the evaluation forms and recommended we watch the video that night while reading through the comments for further reflection.

I have to admit I felt like I should have been more nervous about this–especially since 1. the next youngest professor was in his early 50s and 2. I was going first each day.  But, to be frank, I was pretty excited to be putting myself in a position to get some disinterested feedback from more experienced teachers about my job.

After three days and three lessons, I’ll forgo the specific feedback that I received as it seems less important (though it will be personally helpful) as the overall lesson that was reinforced:  Always look for new ways to improve.  I don’t think I ever saw myself on camera teaching in front of a class–it was… an odd experience to say the least.  But I do believe that it helped illuminate some of the evaluations I received–both in the workshop and in the past.  And it really made me pay attention to something I haven’t before:  body language–something I’m not sure many of us have the opportunity to really observe unless we’re literally observing ourselves.

So, I guess I’d challenge those of you who teach to give this a try some time–surprise yourself with some literal self-reflection and see what you can learn.


About fhelvie

I live in CT with my wife and two sons. I am also writing my doctoral dissertation, which is focused on the relationship between American literature and comic book superheroes. I have served as a panelist at a number of conferences discussing my research in comics, medieval literature, and pedagogy. Most recently, I had the good fortune to present at the New York Comic Con. In addition to my work in comics scholarship, I'm also a full-time professor of developmental English.
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