Notes on An Art of Self-Renewal

This editorial for Teaching Perspectives, September 2006, is a revision of the address delivered at the request of the Learning and Teaching Development Committee to the group of incoming faculty on 16 August 2005, the Rotounda, Brian Mulroney Hall, St. Thomas University, Fredericton, NB.

1. The Journal of Lower Expectations

a. You cannot do everything – limit and choose selectively.

b. You may think that your students are not the best in the world – however, they are who and what they are; work with them and teach them. Remember the words of Molière: “Je les prends où je les trouve.”

c. Teach the students not the subject – and try your best to avoid the "us [faculty] and them [students]" syndrome as teaching and learning is usually a joint endeavour.

d. In a world of facilitation, teach specific students how to learn, so they can teach others as well as themselves.

e. Peer pressure and peer aid is expected at the student level– don’t underestimate its power and be aware of the vital differences between group work, shared knowledge, team projects, and plagiarism.

f. Worry less about teaching the totality of the subject matter – worry more about delivering a very specific message and intention.

g. Remember that learning is process: not all the students will get everything perfect the first time they attempt things on their own..

2. The Art of Self-Renewal

a. University life is cyclical and each September is a new start -- every year you can begin again renewed, and with new intentions.

b. Each January is also a new start – Christmas is a time when you can revise and you can re-plan the second half of your courses.

c. If you teach individuals, not the subject matter (not always easy in large classes), you will never be bored as each teaching and learning experience is a new one.

d. Recycle yourself regularly: ask yourself what you are teaching and why; study the relevance of each piece of course material to these specific students in this specific place at this specific time. Think of the Bakhtinian chronotopos.

e. Be open to change; be open to ideas; be open to renewal and self-renewal.

f. Remember that renewal sometimes means abandoning pre-set ideas; this university is different as each university, each learning community is different; be prepared for that fact and be prepared to change because of it: remember too, it is better to change than to be changed!

g. Remember, too, that while the unexamined life is not worth living (Plato), the unlived life is often not worth examining (Moore). You and your students have lives: you must both live those lives and examine them.

h. If you think that the life you have created for yourself isn't worth living, then think carefully about what you have created and the ways in which you can change.

3. The Art of Recycling: or how I recycled myself this summer:

a. Ávila – May - June 2006 – post-Franco Spain and Spain in the European Union.

b. Readings for courses on Spanish mysticism, Spanish Golden Age poetry, and modern Spanish poetry.

c. Readings on contemporary Spanish poetry, with an emphasis on poetry rewritten and set to music.

d. The European Marco Común – an involvement six levels of language teaching and learning.

e. Exchange of methodologies and setting of examinations for the Common European Language Teaching Framework, Levels A1/A2, B1/B2, C1/C2.

f. Summer breaks in Spain and Fundy from which I return renewed and recycled -- new ideas, new pragmatics, new methodologies, new readings, and renewed energy -- my students can only benefit.

4. The Importance of the Learning and Teaching Development Committee

a. Attend conferences, attend teaching seminars, talk to colleagues and the LTD.

b. Seek help early, rather than late.

c. Put your thoughts down on paper and share them with your colleagues.

d. Trust the experience of the people around you who have been there before and never, never isolate yourself, when help is always close at hand!

e. Get your teaching assessed, either by the LTD Officer or by a senior academic at the university.

f. Think about requesting the LTD Officer to perform a SGIDS in your class. SGIDS: Snall Group Instructional Development Session / Student Generated Instructional Development Session.

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