I haven't felt very satsified with my teaching this term.
Ironically, although the level of student preparation here isn't, collectively, as high as that at Former College, I actually like teaching these students better, for a variety of reasons, so it's not that.
It's just that I used to feel like I was doing a better job than I do now. I guess what I'm trying to figure out is what's different here, and what am I doing (or not doing) that I do when I feel more successful. There are a number of things I've been thinking about, but I've realized that one of the problems is adjusting to lecturing more frequently again.
The biggest difference from my previous teaching is that at my current institution, there are fewer class meetings in a term, but each class meeting is quite long. It's really nothing more than two short classes back to back, but it means I have to think more consciously about varying what we do in each class meeting. One way to mix things up (not the only way, but one way) is to throw in some lecturing to break up the blocks of discussion (usually one worries about breaking up blocks of lecture, not the other way around, but I find that almost two hours of straight discussion is a little much for students, too).
Another difference is that my classes here are quite a bit bigger than my classes at Former College. They're by no means huge, but they're at least one-half again to twice as big as what I've taught for the last three years. I taught classes this size at Rural Utopia all the time, but I think I have to make a conscious effort not to see these classes according to the light of Former College, and to stop thinking of them as "big" classes. Because I associate "big" classes with lecturing, and while these classes are definitely not so big that I can't run discussion, I still find myself lecturing more than I used to.
Thing is, I have a kind of love/hate relationship with lecturing.
The first time I taught a course of my own, in grad school, it was an evening course, two-and-a-half hours at a time, once a week. I'd TAed a lot by that point, which in my grad program meant running discussion sections, so I was perfectly comfortable with classroom management and leading discussion by then (not necessarily brilliant at, but comfortable with), but I'd never spent any significant time lecturing. With a 150 minute class, I had to lecture, just for variety - while I prefer discussion-based teaching, I think asking students to discuss for 150 minutes is just about as cruel as asking them to listen to me for that long.
And I remember that what was most disconcerting about lecturing was that I had NO idea what the students were thinking. I administered midterm evals that first term because I really needed to get a sense of what was going on in the course, and was kind of stunned to find that by and large, students were happy with the course and thought my lectures were just fine. It wasn't that I'd had any evidence that they hated me/the course or were totally lost; it was just that I really didn't know.
It's really hard to tell what people think of lectures. Some students are those lovely people who watch intently, visibly respond, laugh and frown when they should. And other students are those that doodle, look out the window, stare at the floor, look blank, doze, or give you that slightly skeptical, slightly perplexed look every so often.
Thing is, the latter students may be just as engaged and interested as the former. I know, because I'm a terrible audience. I doodle, I gaze out the window, I don't think that as a student I looked like I was paying an iota of attention - but I was. And I know from past experience that some of the students that look the most physically disengaged are some of the ones who are enjoying a class most. But when I'm teaching those students, I always assume they aren't engaged, until I'm given evidence to the contrary.
I'd kind of forgotten this element of teaching bigger classes and lecturing. Former College had such small classes, and was so gung-ho on seminars and student-centered learning and yada yada yada that it felt positively wrong to lecture (though I did, on occasion, and I know my colleagues did too). So teaching was almost always of the instant-feedback variety - that is, you knew instantly if the students had done the work or not, based on how they responded, and you got a sense of how well they'd understood it, and so on. I'd really forgotten how lecturing, and larger class sizes, distance you from that kind of feedback.
I'd forgotten, in fact, that that distance was why I didn't like lecturing. I have a variety of pedagogical reasons why I don't like lecturing and don't think it works as well as discussion-based teaching, but really, my problems with lecturing aren't based in abstract pedagogical principles so much as in the fact that primarily lecturing just feels wrong. My second "own" course was a class of 70, which pretty much required lecturing, and I remember thinking one day that every time I walked out of a class in which mine had been pretty much the only voice talking - which was pretty much every day - I felt like I'd failed somehow. Again, not because I had high moral objections to lecturing - just because it felt like putting messages in a bottle, tossing them into the ocean, and crossing my fingers.
I'd kind of forgotten that this is how I feel about lecturing. But now I'm lecturing more than I have done for a while (again, partly due to the need for variety), and I'm feeling like a bad teacher again. Thing is, I don't actually think I'm a bad lecturer, and I don't think that lecturing has to be in and of itself bad. What I need to do, I think, is work harder on incorporating interactive elements into my lectures, as a way to bridge the distance that the format creates.
Which gives me something concrete to think about for next term.
(This was intended as the post on lecture/discussion that I referenced earlier, but I'm not sure it ended up quite where I'd planned.)