Advice for new college students (again)

by Harry on September 3, 2022

Since it is near the beginning of our term, and I am, again, teaching first year students (which I do only once every three years), I thought I would repost this as a public service…

A couple of years ago the Midwest conference of the Junior State of America asked me to be their keynote speaker. I still have no idea at all why they invited me: it seemed and still seems rather unlikely. I stupidly agreed, and then agonized about what to talk about. The organizers suggested talking about how I got to where I am, but, although there are parts of how I got to where I am that are quite interesting, where I am is not interesting at all. Then, mercifully, the Thursday before the talk two of my students brought one of their friends to meet me in my office. (You can tell how exciting their lives must be!) And they told me to tell her my tips for how to get the most out of college. I was put on the spot and tried, desperately, to remember what my tips are. Fortunately, I did remember. And then I thought, oh, actually, I could talk on Saturday about how to get the most out of college. It’s something I know something about, and that would actually be useful to audience!

Since it is the time of year that some of our readers in the northern hemisphere are getting ready to welcome students to college (I am teaching a small first-year class, which I only do once every three years), and other readers are getting ready to send their kids off to college and, conceivably, one or two readers are getting ready to go off to college themselves, I thought I’d excerpt the part of the talk where I actually give the advice. About 2/3rds of the talk was about what the point of going to college is and I’ll skip most of that, but just say that the point that I gave them was to learn knowledge, skills, attitudes and dispositions that will enable them to make a better contribution to the good of all of us; and to enjoy that learning itself. I know going to college has other purposes, but these are the ones that get neglected by the college recruiters, and school counsellors, and movies, that shape their ambitions about college.

Here goes with the concrete advice:
[click to continue…]

Becoming a Better College Teacher

by Harry on September 3, 2022

As I mentioned a while ago, the Center for Ethics and Education at UW Madison has a podcast, which we’re quite proud of and for which, frankly, I’d like to build the audience. Here’s a recent episode about becoming a better college teacher. It’s grounded in an essay I wrote for Daedalus in 2019, which is really just the story of how, possibly, I became a better teacher (and possibly I didn’t), and drew heavily on blog posts I’ve done at CT over the years [1]. I really like this episode: a recent (2020) UW graduate, Grace Gecewicz, who is now a middle school teacher, interviewed me basically trying to draw out some of what I say in the essay [2]. But about half way through the interview morphs into a conversation, in which she also talks about her own experiences, which are probably the most interesting part of the podcast. If you do enjoy it, recommend it to your friends.

[1] I was invited to write the essay, and was very anxious about it. There was the fact that it would be published in a journal that circulates much more widely than anywhere I normally publish. But it was more: how do you say that you think your entire profession is pretty bad at its main task, and tell the story of how you think you became better at that task yourself, without coming across as a self-righteous prig? You can judge for yourself how successfully I achieve that aim.

[2] Its not only one of my favourites. A student told me earlier this week that before taking my class a year ago she read the essay and decided I would probably be ok. She also told me that this episode is a favourite of her dad’s.