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This semester, we at the Kaneb Center are trying out a new programming idea. We’ve gathered together eight first-time teachers, and are meeting as a small community every week to discuss our in class challenges and victories, and share resources that are especially valuable for those at such an early stage of their career. I saw a need for this “Teacher’s Learning Community” during my first couple semesters teaching. My fellow grad students and I were stressed out. We all had similar anxieties about teaching, and similar questions that seemed answerable, if only we could put them to the right person…Luckily, my wife is a trained educator with over 10 years experience in teaching, so I did have a miniature little community to draw on for support, but, even still, I knew I could really have benefited from a larger cohort.

Our Teacher’s Learning Community meets for just 45 minutes each Friday, and we started our sessions (as I start all my courses) by articulating norms and goals. Unsurprisingly, these teachers knew almost exactly what they needed from the group, e.g. a place to debrief without judgment, answers to simple administrative and policy questions, and permission to talk about the emotionally taxing side of teaching (among many other things). Each week, we check-in and talk about the week’s “best” and “worst,” and, occasionally, we have outside speakers come in, or agree to read a short text on something we’re all individually dealing with. A few themes have emerged early that I’ll highlight here:

  • Time management at every level — e.g. for lectures, units, activities, etc. — has come up early and often this semester, and we’ve done a number of experiments as a group. Two things that have seemed to work are: (1) writing out lesson plans and outlines, and including realistic time estimates on those outlines, and (2) making sure that at least one major chunk of our lesson (e.g. an activity, a subsection of the mini-lecture, etc) is “detachable” and can be dropped if need be.
  • Anxiety about losing credibility. This is something I’ve long struggled with, but there’s a fear that in appearing like we don’t know quite what we’re doing (which — let’s be honest — we definitely don’t always!), our students will think we’re not credible or authoritative. Finding in-the-moment management strategies for this has been crucial, i.e. coming up with and practicing ways to say, “Let’s come back to that,” or “I’m happy to talk about that outside of class” without feeling weird about it.
  • Trying to find the right balance for class policies, like, for instance, technology policies. The main question here has been how to come up with fair, enforceable policies about, e.g., cell phone usage, without making your students feel like you’re treating them like kids?

We’ve had lots of discussion on the above topics (and many, many others). One cool thing about the group is that, even where there aren’t clear answers — i.e. most of the time — a kind of collective wisdom is emerging in the group, and the results of our various experiments can be shared each week, so we’re not tackling all these issues one-by-one and on our own.

In a second post on this group, I’ll collect and share some of that wisdom, so stay tuned, especially if you’re wondering, e.g., how to successfully stare down students who just keep taking out their phones, or whether, when, and how to admit to your students that you’ve screwed up!

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