Teaching (bell hooks)

Bell hooks, who was among the first generation of black students who entered a predominantly white college, wrote about her own experiences and challenges she faced during her college education. Challenges of being taught by professors who believed they were racially superior! Challenges of facing racism and sexism in classes. Challenges of fearing most of the teachers and staying away from them or their classes!

She motivates all black students who went through the same experiences to share their stories. In her books, she addressed issues of race, sex, and class, and all different challenging issues teachers are facing in the classrooms:

“One professor, for example, asked how black female professors can maintain positive authority in a classroom without being seen through the lens of negative racist, sexist stereotypes. One teacher asked how to handle tears in the classroom, while another wanted to know how to use humor as a tool for learning.”

These kinds of autobiographical writings of black students who entered predominantly white schools, colleges and universities (especially the first generation of them) is really helpful in giving us an insight about the challenges they were facing during their education.


Engaged Pedagogy

Engaged pedagogy begins with the assumption that interactive relationship between teacher and students and mutual participation would substantially improve the learning process. Teachers need to discover what the students know, and what they need to know, and this is possible only through interactions. Hence, although it takes time to get to know all students (specially in large classes) and to have an interactive relationship with them, but it is totally worth it.

Both teaching and learning are collaborative processes between the teacher and the students. Every student has a valuable contribution to make to the learning process, and it is the teacher’s responsibility to create an atmosphere in class that everyone feels comfortable to participate.

(hooks, engaged pedagogy)

My Teaching Style

When I first started teaching a course during last summer, the first thing that popped to my mind was “what type of teacher I want to be?” Do I want to be a cool teacher who is friend with all her students, or a strict one who cares a lot about every details of students learning process and does not accept any excuses. I ended up being something in between. I tried to be nice and friendly, but also fair to everyone.

During the summer, I only had 12 students, so it was easy to know them as individuals, be friend with them, and at the same time keep track of their learning process and make sure that they learned the material. All in all, it was a very pleasant experience for me.

This semester, I am teaching the same course, but this time with 185 students! And I would say that it is a totally different experience. Obviously, it is harder to know all students by their names and keep track of their learning process. And much harder to grab their attention during the class, because I am not able to monitor what they are doing in the class. One way that I use to make them focus on the lecture is to mention that the topic is very important and could be on exam! It usually works. This is where I use grade to motivate students to learn.

I think there are different ways to be a good teacher, and it totally depends on each person’s personality. Becoming a good teacher is more than just adopting strategies, it is about caring for students’ learning and trying to continuously improve the teaching process.


An ongoing debate on “grading”

Assessment is an integral component of students’ education. We need to gather information about students’ performance and use it to guide them in their learning process. However, we need to remember that the only purpose of academic assessment is to foster learning, not to label students based on their performance or grades.

The question is how to establish an effective assessment process. There has been an ongoing debate on the current grading system, and whether it is appropriate or not. Personally, I do believe that the current grading system is not perfect and there is a lot of room for improvement. However, building an ideal assessment system, in which all students are assessed based on their own learning styles is not easy. One thing that I would suggest to help us take into account the differences in students’ backgrounds and learning styles in our assessment system is to offer a variety of options (such as exams, projects, homework, labs and extra credit opportunities) to assess the understanding of course content. In general, I prefer open ended projects and homework rather than tests with a limited amount of time, because they give students more chance to think out of box, and foster their critical thinking, while for most tests, students are taught to think and solve questions in a specific format to obtain a full credit.

Finally, we need to remember that it is learning that matters, not getting good grades or becoming successful in all exams!





Mindful Learning

“Mindfulness is a flexible state of mind in which we are actively engaged in the present, noticing new things and sensitive to context. When we are in a state of mindlessness, we act like automatons who have been programmed to act according to the sense our behavior made in the past, rather than the present.” (Mindful Learning by Ellen J. Langer)

“Experimental research, conducted over 25 years, reveals that the costs of mindlessness, and the benefits of mindfulness, are vast and often profound. Mindfulness results in an increase in competence; a decrease in accidents; an increase in memory, creativity, and positive affect; a decrease in stress; and an increase in health and longevity.” (Mindful Learning by Ellen J. Langer)

Now, the question is how to foster mindful learning?

Students are constantly told to pay attention, but they have rarely been taught how! It is important that schools incorporate some mindful activities into their curriculum. Some activities such as a short meditation or breathing exercise would help students practice mindfulness on a regular basis.

There’s a school in Dallas, Texas that has been incorporating mindfulness into its daily routine for almost 20 years and tracking their students’ progress. They showed the significant positive effects of practicing mindful activities on education. Their students are learning essential skills for handling stress, plus improving their memory, capacity to plan and organize, and to feel empathy, all the while improving their test scores (http://www.mindful.org).

Electronic devices in classrooms?

Some may argue that using electronic devices such as cell phones and laptops should not be allowed in classes due to all kinds of distractions they may cause, while others believe that these devices could be considered as in-class tools to assist learning process of students.

Personally, I have witnessed many undergraduate students using their laptops for non-academic purposes in class. However, to me, this does not seem to be a valid reason for banning laptops in classrooms. In fact, instructors cannot control the attention of students. If students choose to distract themselves in the class, they will find a way to do so whether they have laptops or not. However, instructors can grab students’ attention by utilizing some active learning strategies and motivating students to be involved in the process of learning.

In my opinion, instead of constantly worrying about all kinds of distractions electronic devices can cause, it would be better to embrace the changes and try to get the best out of it.

Dilemma: To Blog or Not to Blog!

As I am interested in joining academia, I have had this dilemma of having an academic/personal blog or not.

There are lots of reasons for an academic to have a blog. It has always been important for academics to introduce their work and its importance to the audience. Whether you are seeking for another academic job, looking for new students, or just want the world to be aware of the work you are doing and how significant it is, blogging would give you the chance of publicizing your work. Moreover, by posting regularly in your blog, you build an audience for yourself. Knowing that there are someone who follow your posts forces you to think harder and try to be a more passionate writer. You can also share your public presentations, talks, and some of your projects in your blog. Blogging gives your audience the chance of knowing you and your professional achievements. However, keeping the blog up-to-date would be a time consuming procedure.

On the other hand, I am not fond of sharing my personal life to public audience. Some would argue that social medias, and specifically blogs are all about communications and getting to know each other. However, personally speaking, I prefer to keep my professional and personal life separated. And I would rather use my blog only for professional purposes.