From Inside Higher Education
Teaching Tips
April 13, 2010
By David Galef

At U of All People, we’ve had a 5/5 teaching load for as long as we can remember, which means almost no time to spare for non-essentials like eating or breathing. And with class size capped at 75 students, many instructors crack under the strain of grading 700 lab reports or a quarter-ton of essays on the causes of the Civil War. Within the ranks of the English department, however, is an astonishing anomaly: Professor N. F. Eckshul, last year’s winner of the More or Less Best Teacher of the Year award, seems to have a great deal of time to spare -- time he spends avoiding committee meetings and not publishing. The methods for his ultra-efficient pedagogy have remained obscure, since the last time he had a class observation was 20 years ago. But just this month, Professor Eckshul, announcing his retirement, has decided to share what he calls his Ten Teaching Commandments:

1. Break up the class into small groups that can “teach themselves.” Give each group a project: interpreting a text, writing a paragraph. This activity can use up anywhere from five minutes to the entire class period. Pretend to monitor the students’ progress by occasionally dropping by each group and making helpful suggestions, such as urging the students to listen to each other. Group presentations should take up any remaining class time.

2. Rather than giving students new assignments, which are hard to think up and evaluate, have the students work on a portfolio, consisting of material written and rewritten and re-rewritten, until the entire semester’s work consists of three perfect pieces suitable for framing. When students complain about the tedium of this sequence, sternly intone about the importance of the revision process.

3. Why correct the students’ work if you can get them to correct each other’s material? Set up a system of peer review, where one student, no matter how inept, reads and comments on another student’s work, and so on down the line. Have the students present their reviews in class. If this set-up leaves you with too much unused time, continue the process with a peer assessment of the peer reviews.

4. What student hasn’t thought on occasion, “Hey, I could be in front of the room, doing what the teacher’s doing”? Fine. Ask each student to lead one class “as an educational experience.” No need to prepare for that day. Just sit back and relax, but take care to furrow your brow occasionally and look as if you’re taking notes.

5. When giving exams, always give true-false, fill-ins, or multiple-choice tests, rather than complicate matters with messy interpretations that require time-consuming judgment calls when grading. Using Scantron forms can even eliminate your role in grading entirely while preserving an illusion of objectivity.

6. If you must assign final papers, don’t bother appending any comments, since students won’t bother picking them up from your locked office. If one or two tiresome students really want to look at how you marked their final work, warn loudly that angling for a better grade leads to an automatic markdown.

7. Grade inflation is here to stay -- embrace it! Giving A’s makes everyone feel good, as well as nullifying any complaints about unfair grading policies, discrimination, and even sexual harassment. Just as important: it’s far less work to mark an A paper than a C+ effort.

8. Make yourself as inaccessible as possible before and after class, as well as canceling office hours whenever possible. Just before any time slotted to meet with students, scribble something indecipherable on your door about attending a meeting or convention. And if students can be absent when sick, why can’t you? When really pressed, hint at “personal matters.”

9. Make sure that your first and last classes of the semester are null-content, or at least require no teaching. The initial class can be finessed by simply handing out the syllabus and course requirements and warning the students that there’ll be real work next week. The last class can be filled with anecdotes and reminiscences. During the semester, show a lot of videos.

10. Schedule review days before exams, after exams, at the end of a curriculum section, and any time you need a break from real teaching. If you still need a break after that, use PowerPoint.

Of course, David Galef would never, ever use the techniques described in this column, but what do you think? Please break into small groups and present your findings in the Comments Section.