08 December 2008

Ramblings About My Teaching

Finals week is here and while I feel like I have a million things to get done, I am doing the happy dance in my head. I have been walking around with a silly grin on my face because I have a four week vacation coming up in 3 days. Things are definitely stressful and hectic, but in general life is good.

For the past 25+ years (I sound like a really old lady), my life has revolved around a school schedule, meaning I have two semesters, a Christmas vacation, a Thanksgiving break, a spring break, and my summers are off. For the past year and a half, since I finished my doctoral degree, I have been able to focus only on my role as a professor, instead of balancing my role as a student. While I believe that being a student for so long has definitely informed my teaching, I would like to think that my teaching has improved tremendously. I'm fairly certain that it's not because I became "Dr. Hansen," but I do believe that by focusing solely on my teaching, I've made some gains or improvements.

One of the tasks I complete each year is a self- assessment or reflection of my performance over the past year. I will do this formally in January, but I have already begun to think about it, mostly because of a few experiences that occurred this semester. I'll write more about those in a different post, but I did want to mention that the formal reflection will probably look alot like this post and that maybe, by articulating some of my thoughts now, the formal paper might be a bit better. Anyways, on to why I enjoy my job.

Each semester, my students are required to complete course evaluations. My students have the opportunity to make comments about my course and my teaching and these comments tend to be the most valuable component of the evaluation. Sometimes I receive negative criticism, which I will admit is difficult to read and definitely affects my mood and ego. However, after I take a step back, I usually find these comments to have some value.

Sometimes, I receive very bizarre comments that provide laughs or head shaking moments. For example, I received a comment that said, "You look good in red." It was a nice compliment, but not very useful in my teaching and course development. I also received a comment once that said, "I wish you were my mom." Once again, not so helpful and really quite weird and creepy. I was actually glad that I didn't know who wrote this.

Generally, the student comments tend to reaffirm and provide some evidence that my abilities as an instructor are improving and that my teaching philosophy is shining through in my teaching. Usually my students say that I am hard but fair, that I make an effort to make difficult subjects practical and understandable, and that I make class entertaining and/or fun. Sometimes the students even say that my classes help them learn something new or lets them view the world from a new or different perspective. The positive comments remind me of why I love my job and sometimes I feel like I might be making a tiny difference in the world.

My favorite class that i teach is Human Anatomy and Physiology (A&P) and I'm lucky enough to be able to teach the class twice each semester, at least for now. Students in this course are usually majors from the School of Kinesiology and Recreation or from Health Sciences, and sometimes I'll have other students who are majoring in dance, marketing, business, or even criminal justice. Most of the students are required to take the course. I know this up front and I make a very concerted effort to help my students understand how the stuff we talk about and learn in class is useful for their professions. I even get to tell them stories about sports injuries or weird diseases or even funny stories about people slipping and falling on ice.

Each time I teach the class, I'm so amazed at the miracle of the human body and how incredible it is. I'm also very excited when I see my students start to nod their heads as they start to put the pieces of the muscle contraction together. I love watching the light bulbs come on and I'm so happy and excited when my students as the questions that show me that they are thinking about whatever I'm teaching them.

By the end of the semester, the majority of my students tell me that they've enjoyed my course and that they even learned something. Every once in awhile, I'll even have a student stop by and say thank you or even that they're changing their major because of my class. I always take that as a compliment because to me, that means that I have helped my students stop and think about what they want to do as a career. It's definitely rewarding and I look forward to teaching this class each semester.

I also have the opportunity to teach a couple of athletic training courses in the fall semester. I get to teach the introductory course that discusses the athletic training profession. I have the opportunity to watch my students visit their clinical sites and to see them navigate through the decision making process regarding their careers. I also get to introduce them to the exciting world for sports medicine and to share really great video clips of sports injuries.

The other athletic training course I teach is a senior level course on diseases and drugs. This is the last course I have with our senior athletic training students, so it is a chance to spend some time with them, while sharing some pretty cool (I know, I'm a nerd) information. This class had an extra component this year because we were able to spend some time discussing politics and health care, as well as have some pretty informative discussions on their decisions regarding careers, graduate school and how to take the next stop in their lives following graduation.

These students also have the opportunity (or assignment) to do a presentation on a disease of their choice. The students work in pairs and usually pick a disease that has impacted their lives. They share their experiences with family members or friends who have suffered from the disease. Those of us who are in the audience are able to learn about the diseases from a personal perspective which is much more valuable. I've taught this course for the past 6 years and I feel like this class finally came together for me this semester, which is definitely a good feeling.

The final course I taught this semester was a Learning in Communities (LinC) course that is for freshmen. The purpose of the course is to introduce new students to the culture of ISU, to spend some time discussing diversity and to encourage both civic and political engagement. I had 24 students in the course and we spent 16 sessions discussing those topics. We had several meaningful discussions about the historical 2008 election. We spoke about diversity awareness and appreciation, as well as the role diversity plays in our lives. We were also able to talk about friendship, how we make friends, opportunities for involvement in the university and community, and the issues that surround college students.

This was the first time that I taught this course and I really learned alot from my students. I learned about their perspectives on a variety of issues, and I had the opportunity to share my perspectives as well. Finally, I learned about myself and about my opportunities to help my students develop into concerned, active members of society. I hope to get to teach the course again next year because I have some ideas that I want to implement and hopefully improve the course.

So, the semester is ending and once again I have learned from my students and will hopefully be able to use what I've learned to improve and inform my teaching. I have a break coming up that is definitely much needed, but I'll be ready to come back to school in January feeling refreshed. The longer that I teach, the more I enjoy my job.

Being a professor is an amazing job. I am so glad that I have a job that allows me to share my passion for and love of learning with others. I love that I get to watch my students learn, grow, and develop into thinking and informed professionals. I love that I get to teach my students about the amazing human body and I get so excited to talk about how our bodies are designed and work. I also love that I get vacations for 4 months in the summer and 4 weeks at Christmas and 1 week at Thanksgiving and a spring break.

I'm pretty sure that I might have the best job in the world and I'm so happy that I get to wake up and go to a job that allows me to teach students and to share my passion. Oh and I'm really glad that my vacation starts in 3 days.


Laura Vedeen said...

Thanks for the comments AJ! I liked this post of yours - now that I'll be graduating and heading in a teaching direction, I like hearing about the rewarding moments to look forward to!