Notes on teaching, Feb 2016
There’s a lot on my plate and yet, instead of weeding my part-time teaching work out of my already nonsensically crazy schedule, I sign up for these commitments semester after semester. Up until now, I’ve been advising students of architecture on two specific research components of the Bachelors in Architecture curriculum- the dissertation and the research seminar. This year, for the first time, the School of Planning and Architecture has introduced a research component to the final year design project, known as the thesis. This is new territory for all of us and it’s going to be challenging and hopefully interesting. Those were my thoughts this afternoon as I drove into college.
Thinking through the research requirements for my group of eight final year students is a time consuming task. I listen patiently (that doesn’t come easily to me), understand each student’s motivational landscape and then offer targeted advise. Some students are very high on motivation, others are blessed with clarity and the ability to structure; still others are completely under-confident and lost. While guidance needs to be offered to each individual, I find students face similar problems regardless of their abilities and some common guiding principles are very valuable. So is the opportunity to cross-learn from each others’ struggles.
Three basic tenets have served me well in my short sojourn as a teacher. One, treat students as responsible adults. Assume that they know what they are doing. Remind them that their action and inaction has consequences that they must be responsible for. Of course, this does not mean that they always take responsibility or produce work of quality. No, that varies. But it does mean they are more responsive to what you are trying to say.
Two, show genuine interest in their motivations, however banal. I find judgmental attitudes towards students only puts barriers between the teacher and the taught and impedes progress. Sometimes the starting point is not an indication of how far the kid can go.
Three, approach teaching with a sense of humour. Making light of embarrassing mistakes and using funny examples to illustrate situations go a long way in breaking the formality of the teacher-student relationship.
An additional, and perhaps defensive strategy, is to keep expectations low and build them as you get to know students better. I teach students at the end of their time at SPA. By this time, its hard to change their self-perceptions or push them to break out of habits already formed. One can try, of course and instead of worrying about falling standards and changed levels of commitment, I consciously choose to appreciate how increased exposure can create inter-disciplinary linkages in how students now look at issues. If even a handful emerge the ability to tackle problem solving smartly and sensitively, it’ll be gratification enough!