The Teachable TOACA

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I’ve recently come to realize that I am now what I would consider a “TOACA,” a Teacher of a Certain Age.  Granted, that has more to do with chronobiological age than professional longevity.  And let me be clear that it’s not that I feel like things are “over” (thank goodness). Still, there is a certain sense that I am reaching the top of the hill, so to speak, no matter how long it may be on the other side.  This realization has prompted quite a bit of reflection about my life and career. One of the things I’ve decided is that it is time for me to be teachable again. Curious, I think, for a teacher to seek teachability. I’ve been teaching for quite some time now, successfully.  I say “successfully” but I am now coming to wonder how much of my success results from a certain kind of inertia, the simple fact that I have kept doing what I always did.  Maybe it’s time for that to change.  I’m committing myself to exploring new things in my teaching: new methods and approaches, new kinds of assignments, new approaches to the classroom, new pedagogies.  For so long I thought I knew the answers; maybe it’s time to ask new questions. I’m not entirely sure what this is all going to look like but, as a quick example, I have been thinking a lot about a conversation I had with our point person for student success across the entire university.  She explained that studies show that student learning increases when a teacher takes just a couple of minutes at the start of class to discuss what was covered last class, what will be covered this class, and why it matters. It seems a pretty low stakes change for me and so I feel it’s worth a try.  I can picture myself saying something like “Last class we worked on how to make arguments more specific.  This class as you read through your peers’ papers I want you to focus on arguments to see how specific they are.  Not only will this help your peers to improve their papers but it will give you practice that can help you with your argument as well which will help you improve your writing and your grade.”  So simple, really.  It’s a small change in my teaching but one that may have a large impact. I’ll try to share other little shifts I make in the classroom but the most important shift, I think, is that I am ready to shift.  I’m wondering if I am alone in this.  Well, really, I am wondering if I am the only one with so much hubris as to think that what once worked will always work.  How often do you switch up your teaching?  How teachable are you?
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.