When the teacher becomes the student

This semester I resumed the role of student for the first time in (mumble mumble) years. The experience has affected my teaching on two levels: first, through the actual content of the course, and secondly, through the experience of being a student again.
The content of the course has changed my teaching in a number of ways. I thought it might be useful to refer back to our course outline for the final journal entry – so I did:

NB: titles represent a stated objective from the course outline
Understanding the Cegep system
Prior to this course, I had a relatively good idea of the overall system, from my experience as both a student and teacher. Now I see that many of the assumptions I had about the system were based on my student experience, which is out of date. I graduated before the reforms in the early 1990s (just before, I hasten to add). I knew that things had changed, but I didn’t really grasp why, nor what the impact was on the faculty and programs.
I have a better idea of how the Cegep system works inside the College and at the government level, and I have a much better idea of why specific actions are taken – for instance, I had never read Champlain’s PESL before, and had only glanced at our Mission Statement; having read both now, I see why certain elements are included in outlines, why assignments are distributed the way they are, and why departments need to be aware of programs, and programs aware of the bigger picture.
I have also developed some clearer ideas of what changes should be made – and I have developed a better vocabulary for expressing these ideas, and a better understanding of which ideas are realistic and how they might be implemented. For instance, I have learned that Champlain does not currently offer a ‘figure out what you want to do’ semester – but such a concept is not impossible, and I’m now talking to the right people about whether or not we can implement such a semester in the future.
I have also learned a new respect for broccoli (otherwise known as the CORE courses, such as English and Humanities, which are required for all students regardless of program).
Examining my own educational philosophy
I don’t think that my basic philosophy has changed, but I do think that I am better able to express my philosophy, and to see how it works within the context of the Cegep system in general and with Champlain in particular.
A week later, I am still very happy with my idea that “you can’t teach in a vacuum.”
As the end of the semester approaches, many of my students are coming to me with questions about their other courses – everything from documentation issues to brainstorming. While reviewing a 40-page paper on alternative medicines is not my idea of a fun afternoon, I get a certain thrill from the knowledge that my student values my help and specifically seeks me out. Also, she’s promised to mention my name when she finally wins the Nobel Prize.
Planning my course
This is the area in which the impact is most measurable for me. Prior to this course, my course plans were far too general – essentially, I knew what I wanted the students to read, but I had never put on paper elements such as the timetable, the objectives, or the assessments. I’m actually looking forward to applying my newly developed planning skills to my Fall 2005 courses!
Knowing my students
My first instinct here was to say “I already knew them!” After all, I have been a Cegep student; I’ve been teaching for a couple of years; and if repeat students are any indication, my students like me. But then I got past my Sally Field moment and remembered that my biggest ‘AHA!’ moment came in this area – I had a student who reacted unexpectedly, and I was thrown off by his behaviour. Less than a week later, I was reading one of our articles, and realized (AHA!) precisely why the student had acted that way, and more importantly, how to deal with it.
I guess the biggest lesson here is that it’s sometimes in those areas with which we think we’re strongest that we become complacent – it’s good to be reminded that there’s always something new to learn!
Utilizing college resources
We didn’t spend a lot of time on this in the course; at Champlain, because we’re such a small campus, it’s not difficult to get to know all the support staff and resource people. It is interesting to consider ourselves in the context of the organizational chart, though, and to see how things are interconnected – or not! I specifically appreciated the revised, revisioned idea of the chart, with the teacher at the centre of the system, relying on every facet of the college. If nothing else, it reaffirmed my idea that “you can’t teach in a vacuum!”
Being a student again has reminded me of the bad habits I had as a student before – the last minute reading, the cramming, the uncontrollable need to put my hand up and get my two cents in… and it’s also reminded me of the responsibilities and demands that my students face. Having said that, I’m no more inclined to be lenient with lapsed readings or late assignments – after all, if I can teach full-time, have my family, and get my own assignments in on time, then my students can be prepared, too!
One of the big changes I have seen in my teaching due to my studenting is the way I set up my classes. As a student, I really appreciated seeing the agenda on the board before the class started, and the detailed outline we had at the beginning of the course, not to mention all the communication between classes. As a result, I have implemented these strategies in my own classroom – I begin each class by writing on the board what we’ll be covering that day, what the students need to know, read or do for the next couple of classes, and any other pertinent information. I have been sending group e-mails to my students as well, and my course web pages are more detailed and more frequently updated than before. I have even distributed addenda to the original outlines, to make sure my students see what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how I expect them to prove to me that they’ve done it.
Given that this course was only 45 hours, there have been some pretty significant and profound changes!!