Thinking about Teaching

As we all know, teaching is an important endeavor here at UMass Dartmouth. Here are some ideas for your consideration in preparation for your contract-renewal dossiers and your tenure dossier.

  • Seek peer review. Ask tenured members of your department to visit your classes. These visits shouldn't always be planned in advance. Reviews are more objective when someone drops by your class unannounced. You want reviewers to know that you don't have to specially plan for review and that your class is always prepared, organized, and active.  
  • Develop and solicit various forms of review. For example:
    • Have a tenured colleague evaluate your syllabus. Such a review can demonstrate your focus on clear learning objectives for the course, a sense of how the course fits into the larger departmental curricula goals, and how well you organize and know your course material. 
    • Have a tenured colleague evaluate your formative and summative feedback on student papers. Save copies of graded student work, block out the names, and have the work and your comments reviewed. 
    • Have a tenured colleague evaluate your course Web site if you use one for your face-to-face classes. Your goal is for the review to demonstrate how technology enhances your classroom and helps you achieve the course learning objectives.
    • Have a colleague in your field from off campus evaluate your syllabus. This type of review could focus on how your course is current in its subject matter and addresses key learning objectives for your field.
  • Hold onto copies of student work. How do you do this? First, you need to request permission from your students if you can use their work as examples in your file. It's best to get this permission in writing (a simple permission form will suffice). Then, you can include representative examples of student work that demonstrate, for example, how your assignments help students achieve the learning objectives of your course. Or you could write a reflective piece for your dossier in the teaching section about how you saw student work develop over a full semester. This reflective statement could analyze how your teaching practices contributed to student learning. 
  • Write a brief paragraph at the end of the semester about each course you taught. What worked? What didn't work? What might you do differently in the future and why? What assignments will you hold onto and why? This brief paragraph can help develop the teaching section of your dossier. It may also become the substance of your tenure narrative in the future. The key is to reflect upon each course when it's still fresh in your mind.
  • Actively engage in ideas about teaching in your field. Read articles about teaching. Use these articles not just to develop your teaching practices, but to create reflective writing pieces about how your teaching practices fit into the teaching practices that are most respected in your field. Demonstrating your reflective practices is central to being a thoughtful, continually developing teacher. Here are some useful articles and web links for you to start with:  
  • Develop a teaching portfolio. These portfolios offer a substantive look at your teaching practices and effectiveness. As Ken Bain points out, teaching portfolios are a "scholarly case—evidence and conclusions that answers questions" about your practices (168).  Teaching portfolios, according to Bain, help you address the following questions, among others: "What have you tried to help and encourage students to learn? Why are those learning objectives worth achieving for the course you are teaching? What strategies did you use? Were those strategies effective in helping students learn? Why or why not?" (168). Most importantly, answering these questions requires more than simply gathering material and giving it to someone else to review. You take an active role in considering your pedagogy—in other words, you become a reflective teacher. 
  • Explain to students that the end-of-the-semester evaluation is important and why. Not all students know that these evaluations have to do with contract renewals and tenure. Also, ask for constructive feedback in the comment areas of your evaluations. What do students think you can do differently and why? Students often have great ideas about how to improve our teaching practices.
  • Don't just count numbers in your student evaluations. Read your student evaluations closely to identify common threads. Do students routinely comment on your availability? The ways in which you foster student learning? The achievement of course objectives? The development of their critical thinking and writing?
  • Save unsolicited emails from your students that provide insight into their learning or what they are doing after they graduate. 
  • Pursue grant opportunities for teaching projects. Locate grants in your field that will help you engage in the scholarship of teaching. Just as you do with a research grant, plan ahead. Don't forget that you need both your chair's and dean's approvals. 
  • Finally, remember that assessment is central to your courses. Here's a great link to a site at Southern Illinois University that offers numerous assessment ideas for your classes: