Let’s say that you’re going to hold a day-long event for faculty that is about teaching. The spirit that drives the event is entirely good, and those organizing it have absolutely the best intentions. Yes, such events are often… disappointing in a lot of ways, for a lot of different reasons. That said, I’m not against such events. For one thing, I understand that things like this are work, and I understand that work means that some things will be disappointing or frustrating. And I also want to state up front that I am, in spite of what follows, actually glad I went to the event that inspires this post, because in spite of the event itself, I did manage, I think, to have some exceptionally productive conversations – with my dean, with my provost, with colleagues from across the institution, hell, even with my department chair and with colleagues in my own department. However, here are some things that you might not want to do, if you are going to hold such an event:
- Schedule the conference for the Wednesday before classes begin, meaning that even if everything is awesome and illuminating and causes epiphanies in the way that people think about their teaching they don’t actually have any time to incorporate any of what they learn into their courses.
- Have the continental breakfast begin at 7:30 in the morning. 7:30 is too motherfucking early for human beings to interact with one another unless they are family.
- Begin with a “performance” – which starts at 8:30 in the goddamned morning, which involves a lot of stomping and shouting and that doesn’t have a clear connection to anything to do with teaching.
- Beginning with that 8:30 performance, schedule people within an inch of their lives until approximately 4:30 in the afternoon. Seriously: there were only two – TWO! – breaks in the day…. both of which were according to the schedule supposed to be fifteen minutes in length. Because everything ran over, the breaks were shortened to like 5 minutes a piece.
- Expect the lunch to be a “working lunch” – so, no, lunch was not a break.
- Claim that the conference is supposed to be about productive conversation and then set it up so that people attend sessions in which they are talked at for over an hour. Conversations be damned!
- Fail to include any sessions on actual, you know, students. How in god’s name are we supposed to be talking about teaching productively when we never think about students as actual people who are central to what we do? Well, except for when people criticize them as uncaring, irresponsible illiterates. Students did certainly come up in that context.
- Fail to talk about curriculum. As with the previous bullet, I don’t understand how we can talk about “effective teaching” if we don’t talk about what we actually teach. But god forbid we have a real conversation. Real conversations are exceptionally uncomfortable.
- End the day with something that wasn’t on the schedule – forcing people to watch a video from the internet. Take 20 minutes to introduce the person speaking on the video, even though he is not actually at the conference and is not going to speak about anything related to it. This choice move extended the already LONG day by a good 40 minutes. AWESOME! A clear demonstration of “active learning”!
- Lie to the attendees, telling them that they will only be eligible for not inconsequential raffle prizes if they are there at the end of the day for the drawing. The drawing that doesn’t happen until after the motherfucking forced video viewing. And then, when the first winner is drawn, and the “lucky winner” had already left to pick up their children, don’t follow through and draw again. Oh no, that’s apparently a “good reason.” (Let’s note: this was fucking over at least 250 people.)
- Hold the event at a place from which it is impossible to escape, now that it’s rush hour, because of awful road construction, which means that the attendees will have a drive that is two to three times as long home as would be normal. I’d say that this construction affected nearly 2/3 of the attendees, because of the dumb location.
You know what I’d like a hell of a lot more than the 11-hour day I endured? Actual conversations about teaching with my colleagues. Like, once a month, or every couple of weeks, schedule something that is an hour long. Have a focused topic, like “the syllabus.” If you attend, you’re expected to bring a copy of one syllabus that you use. And then we share them, and talk to each other about them. Doesn’t cost money (this monstrosity today had to cost thousands of dollars), doesn’t require “speakers,” and might actually foster a culture of support for teaching and for innovation in teaching. Might actually value teaching and the work that we do as teachers, and might actually show some respect for students.
But hey. I got my 50 dollar starbucks card for staying until the bitter end, and a glass and a half of wine. Who cares about actually accomplishing anything?