Emory Report

 September 8, 1997

 Volume 50, No. 3


Teaching can be taught; it should also
be developed and cultivated

Although teaching takes talent, it also requires skills that can and should be honed throughout one's career as a teacher. Before a teaching career begins, the individual can be encouraged to think about the skills and characteristics that distinguish excellent teaching from poor teaching. Consider the following illustration of teaching being taught.

A teacher who is both a professional actor and professor in the Theater Studies Department coaches a graduate student preparing to become a teaching assistant. "Ok, go through that line again," he says. "Only this time, do it in the persona of the Worst Teacher You've Ever Known. We're going to break the delivery down into small steps: first the face, then the gestures, then the stance, then movement; then we'll add the tone of voice. Go ahead-start with the facial expression."

In 1991 the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences established the Teaching Assistant Training and Teaching Opportunities (TATTO) program and required it of all students pursuing the Ph.D. It consists of supervised teaching in four stages. The first stage, the TATTO summer course, features Emory's best teachers. More than 100 faculty from thirty disciplines have participated, presenting talks on practical topics and offering critiques of students' presentations during microteaching sessions. In the second stage, graduate students address pedagogical concerns specific to their disciplines through courses taught by master teachers. The third stage brings graduate students into the classroom as teaching assistants, giving them the responsibility of grading papers and leading discussions. The fourth stage establishes a partnership between a faculty member and a graduate student teaching associate. This collaboration extends from syllabus design through final grading.

This nationally recognized program, which addresses both the basic tools and practices common to all teaching and the discipline- and profession-specific elements of teaching, embodies the principle that teaching can and should be taught. Learning to teach, however, should not be confined to graduate study.

As a faculty career continues, the individual faculty member should continue to think critically about his or her own pedagogy as well as teaching strengths and weaknesses. One way to do so is in conversation with colleagues, as in the following example:

Five faculty members-an assistant professor, a lecturer, two associate professors, and a full professor-gather to discuss Teaching to Transgress, by bell hooks. It is the third book on pedagogy that this group, meeting voluntarily and informally, has discussed this year.

Teaching requires a continual self-conscious reflection on one's own changing needs as well as the changing needs of one's students, one's discipline, and the larger community. During the typical career of a faculty member-with its shifting balance of responsibilities, demands, and opportunities-the need arises for renewed attention to teaching during different phases of professional development. Faculty who have taught at other institutions sometimes find Emory students presenting them with a whole new set of expectations. A faculty member who has been teaching at Emory for a while may want to learn new pedagogical approaches to keep his teaching from going stale. Research on teaching, as well as the experience of faculty, indicates that problems in teaching often can be corrected through such means as mentoring, consulting, developing and obtaining new resources, videotaping, and participating in workshops. At all stages of their careers, faculty dealing with the complexities of the classroom and its surroundings need safe spaces to explore the distinctive features of their own teaching styles.

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