Teaching Tips We Wish They'd Told Us Before We Started
Daniel D. Garcia, Moderator
University of California, Berkeley
University of Washington
This work was presented at SIGCSE 2007.
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By learning you will teach, by teaching you will learn
-- Latin Proverb
Once again, things that could've been brought to my attention
-- Adam Sandler as Robbie Hart in "The Wedding Singer"
When we started teaching, our more seasoned colleagues were
probably ready with pearls of wisdom to share with us. They no doubt pointed
us to several of the excellent resources on teaching as a new faculty member
[1,2,3,4,5]. As an instructor, there were so many hats to wear:
lecturer, teaching staff mentor, exam / project / lab author, grader and
leader of office hours. It was a lot to take in, and even with all that
counsel, it was probably still quite daunting!
Years later, what have we had to learn on our own? What
egregious mistakes could have been avoided had we just known a single fact?
What advice has stood the test of time? How can we share these with each other?
The purpose of this project is to gather together the
favorite teaching tips of seasoned educators. We offer a random
sampling of a few of these "hidden" pearls below. When possible, we've
tried to tag them with relevant categories: Lecturing,
Office (hours), Staff (mentoring), Exams
(authoring & administering), Labs (authoring & running),
Section (TA-led discussion), Projects (and homework;
authoring & supporting), and Meta (advice spanning categories).
The Tao of TALC (Office)
The Astronomy Learning
Center (TALC) on campus runs large, collaborative "watering holes"
where students gather to work on their homework in an informal, open
setting. While I did not duplicate their very successful center, I did
adopt some of their strategies for my own office hours. The most
significant was to let the students drive as much as possible. It's so
easy to lapse into lecturer mode when a student asks an innocent
question, like "I don't understand ____". TALC suggests biting your
tongue, avoiding the chalk, and instead spending your efforts
supporting the inner teacher in the other students. You act more as a
facilitator between the confused student and their "peer
instructors". Once one student has explained the answer, you ask a
second student to give an "instant replay" for the benefit of all. You
are allowed to step in for a "slow motion instant replay" when
appropriate, but only as a last resort. There are other subtle points
TALC mentions, like standing within a group (not in front),
avoiding getting bogged down with a single question or individual, and
having the "driver" recap whenever a student joins in the middle of a
discussion. One role I sometimes assume is that of a very confused
student. I'll sit in the back and ask very fundamental questions and
all the students in the room act as a single entity to explain things
Slip Days (Projects)
The tired "my dog ate my homework?"
excuse probably isn't used much anymore, but I've certainly heard my share of
"the network / system / RAID / database was down". These are a thing of the
past, thanks to slip days. Slip days are one-day virtual tokens (students are
usually given three at the start of a term) that can be used to grant
themselves a single day's extension for any homework or project deadline. They
could have a single day's extension for three assignments, save them up to use
all three at once, or anything in-between. Our submission script automatically
keeps track of how many slip days they've used to date, so there's no extra
bookkeeping overhead. Whenever someone approaches with a sob story when they're
clearly fishing for an extension, one can cut them off and suggest they use a
slip day token.
- Bain, K. What the Best College Teachers Do. Harvard University
Press, Cambridge, MA, 2004.
- Boice, R. Advice for New Faculty Members. Allyn & Bacon, Needham
Heights, MA, 2000.
- Davis, B. G. Tools for Teaching. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, 1993.
- McKeachie, W. J. Mckeachie's Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research And
Theory for College And University Teachers. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA, 2005.
- Royce, D. Teaching Tips for College and University Instructors: A
Practical Guide. Allyn & Bacon, Needham Heights, MA, 2000.