A Tale of Two Classes

I just got back from the second of the two classes that I’m taking.  So for the next month, I’ve got these two classes, plus my teaching load.

Yes, yes, I know.  Don’t I already have enough to do? I hear you cry.  Well, clearly not.

Be that as it may, the two classes could not have been more different.

A few background facts:

  • I am enrolled in a Masters in history program at George Mason University
  • I am a voracious reader of just about anything
  • In case you didn’t already know, I teach high school world history
Wednesday night’s class was my Mason class.  It’s a required class for my Masters, and its focus is on how historians do history – the study and writing of it.  We’ve read some pretty interesting stuff so far, and have been introduced to some fascinating historical smackdowns.  No, seriously.  Historians fight – they just do it through lengthy articles with lots of footnotes.  The one we looked at in the beginning of the course was between Natalie Zemon Davis and Robert Finlay.  He didn’t like her interpretations of events and motivations in her book The Return of Martin Guerre (find out more here and here).  He said that she made inferences out of thin air that couldn’t be supported by her sources.  She, in turn, said he was being too straightforward and simple in his understanding of a complex series of events and he missed the point of her book almost entirely.  It took Finlay 19 pages in the American Historical Review to make his case.  Davis came back with 31.5 pages in the same journal.

BAM! Smackdown.

My second class – tonight’s – could not be more different.  It’s about Young Adult Literature.  The class is 1) offered through my district, 2) free, 3) taught by two high school librarians and 4) completely unrelated to what I teach (World History, remember) and really geared more towards school librarians than me.

However, tonight’s class was by far the better of the two.  Here’s why:

  1. the instructors were both on time – in fact, they were there before anyone else.
  2. they had very clear goals for the way the course would go and how each session would progress, and they articulated those goals well
  3. they were beyond enthusiastic about what they were teaching
  4. they listened to the contributions of their students, didn’t interrupt, and valued what everyone had to say
  5. they had snacks
Now I realize how that comparing a high school librarian to a college professor is unfair – the professor is at a clear disadvantage.  School librarians are highly trained educational professionals.  The college professor is a highly skilled research historian.  And that’s the problem.  She is not trained in educational pedagogy, and it shows.
However, it strikes me that there are a few basic rules:
  1. know what you’re going to teach
  2. know how you’re going to teach it
  3. explain it clearly
  4. be on time
I paid 1400 bucks for the graduate course.  I’m probably going to get more out of the YA Lit course.  And remember that I want to do both.

2 comments on “A Tale of Two Classes

  1. katiem2011 says:

    I just finished a PhD in education and I remember sitting through courses in my undergrad, master’s and doctorate wherein the faculty had absolutely no idea how to teach. My favorite moments were faculty in education who weren’t applying the principles and theories they were teaching about. Some universities have started offering courses for grad students to improve teaching skills and I hope this helps! I’m spending this year (graduated, no jobs) trying to help faculty become better teachers. I’d love to involve you in the conversation over at ANewLunchbox.

  2. Sue Cordek says:

    Love you Jessica! I do have to give kudos to the ed profs at UVA in the admin certification program. They were all master teachers and expert at putting best practices into action in their classes. Loved each and every one of them. And, they respected librarians as teachers!

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