Change can be scary.

This is a conversation from my adjunct certification online course. That was the tiltle of the discussion thread. I titled my comment “teaching innovations.” (A title was required.)

My comment:
I like teaching new things in new ways. Tweaking small changes is easy because it won’t necessarily make a lot of difference if it doesn’t work. Teaching a new course is fun because it is novel. But it can be hard to change at the intermediate level, to throw out a whole unit in order to try a new one that might not work.

Joe, who was on all the time, replied:
It is interesting. I agree with you totally about teaching something new, but at this stage of my career, the new happens in my own work of writing and painting outside the classroom. I share this with my students by giving them my websites and it is an aspect of what the material is that happens in class (as an added element to the core material) but still, it is outside, not part of the curriculum (at least, not directly). OK, given that: talking about working with or creating “something new” in the classroom (or my studio), I have always believed: “First you shoot the arrows and then paint the targets (told to me by a friend in graduate school and has become a mantra that I use when approaching the “unknown”). Also there is a Chinese saying, “A journey of a thousand miles start with the first step.” Lastly, another of my rules in my own painting is: “If I don’t know where I am going, any road will get me there.” It makes a work of art like opening a present at Christmas. Just some thoughts!

And then Joe replied to himself:
It is always curious to respond to yourself as well as someone else’s thoughts (yours, Dr. Davis). So after working out at the Y, on the bike and the machines (I do some of my best thinking while my body is someplace else in exercise), I thought about my saying that I do not do many “new” things in my Art Appreciation course (my passion to teach because if I can turn the students on, it works for all the other professors that they will have after me). First, it is not true. I tweak little things all the time. Second, I should take a hard look at the section of the course where my passion is not as high: teaching linear art history from cave art to Surrealism (30,000 BCE to Picasso and Miro). I find that as “something that must be done and that the student definitely needs” therefore I do not bring the same enthusiasm to those four weeks. Oh, they get the material and thank me at the end for presenting it but it is not a section that I love to teach. I would not change the beginning or end of the course, just this middle. There has to be a way to inject what I believe about art history (it is not “back then” but “right now”) into how I teach it. That might be my project for this Adjunct Certification session that we are taking. It is, at least, a challenge. Thank you for nudging me out of my own routine. I have made small changes but not a major change here for several years.

My response to Joe’s comments:
You said

There has to be a way to inject what I believe about art history (it is not “back then” but “right now”) into how I teach it.

What if you teach art history and show how we are still doing it?
Cave paintings = graffiti or large wall murals

… I don’t know enough to keep going, but I am fairly sure that you could do an approach like that, thus giving them a linear view of art history while still having the work apply to what we are doing now.

Stuart got in on the conversation:
I have a question. Do you fnd that your teaching is drastically different from one class to another even when it is the same subject or course you are teaching?

I find many times, even by accident, that I told one class a anecdote or story that I did not tell my other classes.

I answered Stuart:
I do find that I tell different stories in classes. I think I respond to different questions with stories. So some students will hear one story while another class will hear a different one.

I worry about that sometimes. I wonder if one class is hearing the same story three times and one story not at all.

I also find that sometimes my explanations become streamlined as I see what helped the students and what didn’t. So the first class is an hour long, the second is 55 minutes, and the third gets out ten minutes early.

Most of the time, though, if I am teaching the same course the same semester I try very hard to do the same things with each class. (Unless something clearly didn’t work.)

Suzy has the same thing happen:
I’e had the same thing happen to me, Dr. Davis! I sometimes call my second class a “Cliffs Notes” version of the first. It was worse when I taught four 1301 classes back to back. I lost track of what I said to which class. Luckily, I’ve changed my schedule, so it happens less frequently now.

Mike said:
I’ve read the string of messages initiated by your comments, but I return to your original message to reply. I often think back of my first classes taught at Kingwood (Fall 2006) and feel sorry for them.

Joe came up with one of his perfect quotes:
Several years ago, I found a quote from the Dalai Lama which has helped me in many ways (in the classroom and outside in my own creative work): “If you do not think that small things make a difference, spend a night in a room with a mosquito.”

Suzette had the last word:
Okay, I can’t help but laugh. I have spent a night or two fighting for hours with an elusive mosquito. But seriously, small things do make a difference. You may not see the results immediately, but eventually you do see it. Thanks for the quote. I’ve added it to my journal. : )