A few, very interesting links on teaching/tenure:
Your must-read academic link of the week is today’s Inside Higher Ed article by Gary Lewandoski, with the provocative title: Stop Trying to Get Tenure and Start Trying to Enjoy Yourself. His thesis is pretty much clear from the title:
When I started my own tenure-track position I had the same questions. I perused published sources and quizzed colleagues to gain insight. I believed that by identifying the right steps to take, people to meet, ways to teach, scholarship to pursue, committees to seek out, and committees to avoid, I would bring clarity to the ambiguity of the tenure process. Unfortunately, my desire to cobble together a magical checklist was still plagued by a fundamental problem. My approach made getting tenure the primary goal.
On the surface, this is perfectly reasonable. Tenure provides job and financial security, as well as the ability to take risks in one’s scholarship and the opportunity to help shape the future of one’s institution. Yet, I believe a superior approach is to get a tenure-track position and then immediately remove the idea of “getting tenure” from your daily (or perhaps even moment by moment) thought process. That’s right. Getting tenure should not be your primary goal (though admittedly this is secretly a “how-to get tenure” article). Instead, your goal should be to follow your interests, your passion, your curiosity, and your creativity. In other words, you should follow all of the things that got you into this field in the first place.
He goes on to justify this from both experience and psychology research, so you know it’s good.
This is excellent advice, though it’s unfortunately the sort of advice that’s a lot easier to appreciate from this side of the tenure review process. Still, if you’re on the tenure track, read it, and think about whether you can apply it to your own life.
I’ve made it a goal to never “lecture” for more than 20 minutes at a time. At the 20-minute mark, I stop, and we do something else. Either a class discussion, or a small project, or a break, something else. I’ve been on a steady diet of TED talks for the past 12 months, and I’ve been trying to capture the power of that strict time limit, the intensity of a well-crafted 20 minutes. I think it represents the upper limit of my students’ attention span, and rather than fighting it, I’ve decided to embrace it and use it to my advantage.
 Laila Lalami points to several essays, published in New York Times Magazine, on teaching (though, I seem to have difficulty in accessing them):
I enjoyed reading the essays in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine, all on the theme of teaching. David Gessner (Sick of Nature, Return of the Osprey) writes about giving up full-time writing for the safety–and health insurance–that come with a teaching job. He touches on all the challenges that writers in academia face, I think. Manil Suri has a nostalgic piece about teaching mathematics for twenty-five years (that’s fifty semesters.) And Mark Oppenheimer has an interesting article about how teaching evaluations are collected, what they might measure, and what they don’t.
I start teaching in four days. I fully expect to have one of those dreams where I show up without my papers, without my notes, having forgotten what the day’s lecture was about.
Update: I am able to access NYTimes and I see that Abi had already linked to one of the other interesting pieces from the magazine:
Virginia Heffernan: Charisma Sensei: The celebrity academics who are “camera-friendly, .. and easily downloadable”, with links to fabulous video lectures by five academics in different fields. I have already watched three of the five: Walter H. G. Lewin (physics, MIT), the late Randy Pausch (Last Lecture at Carnegie Mellon) and Dan Ariely (behavioral economics, MIT and Duke). I should check out the other two.
There’s an accompanying blog post where you can vote for your favourite.
Another nice piece from the magazine asks as to what your teaching might tell you about your presidency!
Obama’s status as senior lecturer in law was a rarefied one. At that time, two federal judges — Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook, both of the Seventh Circuit — held that position, and both men had been full-time, distinguished members of the Chicago faculty before joining the bench and reducing their course loads at the law school. So when the 34-year-old Obama told the law school’s dean, Douglas Baird, that he wanted the same post, Baird was somewhat taken aback. “He’s not a man possessed by self-doubt,” Baird told me with a smile.
A magzine section worth your while! Have fun!