Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Teaching Tips for Newbies: The Heckler

I had a lovely email from one of you out there.  Its that time of year again...here they come...the student hordes.  And for some of you out there, its time to start teaching them.  So I was asked for advice in teaching the Cultural class, especially in the conservative areas of the big old U.S. of A.  Deep in the heart of Texas, home of Govenor anti-evolution, anti-science, dumber-than-a-box-of-Good-Hair, there is no shortage of teaching trauma.

So, I will tap into my pompous know-it-all streak and attempt to give a series of posts where I pretend I have some answers.  Be nice when you correct me, though.  No one likes there soft, wibbly bits exposed for public ridicule.  And feel free to join in with your tips, show us your wibbly bits.

We will start with general classroom management:  worst case scenario.   The one difficult student who seems to hate you.  (Truthfully for me, its probably a slightly older white guy who arrives suspicious of our entire discipline and with a penchant for listening to Rush is Reich)  Do not fight with that one difficult student.  You will lose.  You are never going to win with the close-minded.  Ever.  Don't try.  Here is why: many of those students sitting in that class are on your side but they aren't going to say anything.  They are the "Richard Nixon silent majority".  They want to learn.  Yes, they do.  They don't want to witness a fight.  It  makes everyone uncomfortable.  Heck, it makes you uncomfortable.  Try to remember:  that one difficult student is just one difficult student.  Teach the crowd.  Develop a repetoire of useful phrases even if they are dorky (freely admit that they are dorky).  Say "we are putting on our anthropology hats when we walk in the door.  You don't have to agree but you do have to learn to think like an anthropologist".  Then repeat that simple mantra in various forms throughout the semester.  "Well, anthropologists say...."  Well,  that isn't really acceptable in the discipline...."  "That interpretation doesn't work for anthropologists...."  Use these phrases with that one difficult student rather than allow them to pick a fight about an issue you have not chosen to discuss.  Don't be weak.  Learn to redirect, instead.

Say for example, that you are discussing languages and the heckler loudly proclaims that it is just fine if all the languages of the world become extinct and we all speak English.  Respond with, "well, you do realize that that would be a problem for anthropologists don't you?  After all, we study people, and culture, and languages, and we kind of like them, you know."  Now, I know you want to intellectually (and maybe literally) rip the heckler's arms off and beat him/her to death with the bloody nubs but really the class doesn't want to witness that.  (Despite their alarming propensity to know far more about those Grand Theft Auto games than is healthy for them.)

Keep the class on your side and the heckler will flounder against the rocks of universal disapproval.  Pretend that you are Sandra Bullock and take the high road.  Pretty soon your ex and his tattooed girlfriend will have their T.V. show cancelled but you will always be rich and beautiful and beloved.....Its a fantasy people, work with me here.

Truth be told, you will probably have many happy classes without ever having to deal with the heckler but you need to be ready, just in case.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Has anyone seen my retirement?

A couple of quarters, 4 pennies and a linty sourball in a small beaded change purse.  Anyone?  Anyone?

OMG, its so hot...

We all died and went to hell, didn't we?  Not Dante's hell but the other metaphorical understanding of it.  Isn't someone supposed to tell us that we have arrived?

I know I should write something deep and meaningful but I think my brain has exceeded the recommended  level on the Scoville Scale.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Advice for Newbies (and some oldies): things not to do in archaeology class

In the middle of an Archaeology lecture (pardon me, I mean *broadcast*) on seriation, when you are seeking a relevant example in an attempt to be appealing, do not look around the room and seize on what seems to be an obvious example:

(*ssh* tattoos)

Those members of the current generation who have committed to the process and attach great meaning to it do not want to hear that someday they may be on the dying end of a battleship curve.  This....does....not...go...over....well.  At all.

They will no longer find the work of Deetz and Dethlefsen charming.  And you might have, actually, had a chance with that but...nope.  Not now.  Battleship sunk.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pedagogy Rant: Part 2

So, here is part 2 of the rant that I owe you.  Its a simple bit:  we as academics ought to know better than to create these ridiculous straw men based on some kind of perceived bipolarity.  Providing information in lecture/discussion format works very, very well for some subject matters.  Group assignments work very, very well for some subject matters.  Stop presenting pedagogy as if it is a magic pill in a one size fits all world.  Sticking all of us teaching professionals in a metaphorical snuggie (following the one size fits all thought process here?) is not the way to go.

Or thanks to commenter, Tony (of Ethnography.com--I can never tell if I should put that stuff.  Yell at me if I shouldn't), we have this one:
 "You are not a sage on the stage, but a guide by the side!"
Thanks, Tony.  I, totally, snorted.

I will leave you with this thought.  A dear friend and colleague of twenty years stopped by to chat.  He has embraced the non-"broadcasting" model.  I asked:  "what, exactly, do you do now?"  "Oh, I give them crossword puzzles."  "Crossword puzzles?"  "Sure, I divide them in groups and they fill them out together to learn the terms.  Then I go over them the last ten minutes of class.  It is, actually, much easier for me...and, you know, I just don't care anymore."

For every bad "broadcast" experience of 400 distracted students passively allowing words to wash over their rapidly-texting minds; I can find you a class of 30 students, pushed together in groups, rapidly-texting while one of their kind is forced to fill out a crossword puzzle.

Can we please have a more intelligent discussion than this mess.

I am looking at you Mr. NPR guest, Don Tapscott. (Read the comments.)