The ABCs of Teaching
There’s an old joke about teaching and it goes like this:
Two teachers are walking in the park and one of them says to the other: “I taught my dog to whistle today.” The other replies: “Really? That’s amazing. Can I hear it?”
“Well, no, you can’t,” says the first teacher. “I said I taught him; I didn’t say he learned it.”
That joke – tired though it may be – stands at the center of an ongoing national debate among educators about teaching and learning. Is it enough to know a discipline extremely well, then walk into a classroom expecting to teach? Some would argue: yes. Learn a discipline well, present it to the students, and if they pay attention, study hard and complete assignments, then they will learn the material.
Increasingly, however, educators are understanding that seldom are things so simple.
Ron Toll, FGCU’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, entered the classroom for the first time as a teacher 31 years ago. A newly minted Ph.D., Toll’s training was comprehensive and his knowledge of his discipline extensive. But he’d never received a single day’s training on how to teach. “I literally had no idea about how to pass on the knowledge I’d learned to my students,” says Toll. “My auto mechanic, my plumber, my doctor all have extensive training in the techniques of their professions. But not an hour of my academic training had been devoted to teaching me how to teach.”
According to Toll, it took years learning teaching techniques by trial and error before he felt he had mastered how to manage a classroom. And over those years, he decided that someday he would do something to address the issue of training new faculty.
Someday came in August 2009, when Toll spoke with Linda Serro, a professor in FGCU’s College of Education, about designing a teaching and learning center at FGCU. “I got to put all my dreams and hopes about working with faculty on paper,” says Serro. “Out of that work came the Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Initiative at FGCU. Then last year, I was asked to design the curriculum for an academy at FGCU designed to train new faculty in teaching techniques, classroom management, learning theory, assessment, and understanding the FGCU culture and the students they would be teaching.”
Serro solicited ideas from faculty across the campus. Then she designed the course, including topics such as lesson planning, grading strategies, use of technology, designing materials, course development, creating a syllabus, delivering an effective lecture and other effective teaching techniques.