Monday, August 28, 2006

Term starts at Duke

It's my first full academic year at Duke and so I am experiencing an August beginning of term for the first time ever. It is the strangest feeling to someone used to the much later British start. It's still roasting hot here, and there is no rustling through the leaves as one walks into university; there's not a jumper in sight, let alone any scarves or coats. In the UK it is Bank Holiday Monday today and everyone is on holiday, and that makes it even odder to be back to class here. I'm not complaining, though. I really like the earlier finish to the academic year here. And as someone who thoroughly enjoys teaching, it's great to be back to it again. In fact, I am always a bit shocked by academics who complain about teaching and it was refreshing to read Joel Willitts's comments in Euangelion
I am of the mind that good teaching is extremely important, and for me it is as important it not more important than good writing. But it appears to me that we spend much more of our time trying to be better researches and writers than we do being better teachers. Perhaps this is because it is in writing that we can make a name for ourselves (but that is another issue).
The fact that few of us get professional training as teachers should make us work all the harder at our own teaching. I think we are often not self-critical enough, we are too reticent to learn from peer review and we do not listen sufficiently to our students' feedback, especially on course evaluation forms. No doubt we have all heard academics in different institutions trying to avoid peer review, or playing down the importance of course evaluation forms. Too often, I think we look for an easier life. But the major personal trade-off in working hard on our teaching is that we enjoy it more and, hopefully, our students get more out of it. So I'd better get working on that next class!

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