Professor Interview

  • Professor Interview

    I interviewed a professor for whom I have great respect as a scholar and a teacher. Prior to this term, I had not taken a class with her, but after viewing firsthand how she teaches a course, my admiration for her as a scholar has grown. The purpose of this interview was to gain insight into her thought processes behind how she constructs her courses and what led her to implement some of the specific practices unique to her style. These unique practices include her detailed syllabus, particular in-class practices, and how she guides class conversation.

    One of the most unique aspects of this professor’s courses is the incredibly detailed syllabus she provides. While at first glance the syllabus might seem daunting to students, it provides a framework to the class that removes doubt about expectations and assignments for the entire term. The professor includes detailed descriptions for weekly assignments, including grading rubrics. This provides the student with detailed knowledge of how to construct good essay responses, which also guide weekly reading. Since students have access to grading rubrics as soon as they receive the syllabus, they know immediately how they need to read the text and what sort of questions they need to ask in order to complete course assignments.

    The professor described two primary motivations for constructing a detailed syllabus. The initial motivation stemmed from her own reflections on coursework. As a student, she preferred having well-defined goals and assignments in a course. Classes with less detailed syllabi required effort to guess at the professor’s expectations, and added unnecessary anxiety that distracted from learning the material. This point was particularly insightful to me, not just because my own classroom experiences align with hers, but it also helps me to think from my perspective as a student. It is helpful to see an instance where personal experience as a student translates to successful pedagogical practice.

    From the professor’s perspective, the syllabus also serves as the ‘authoritative’ voice in the classroom, in order to alleviate potential interpersonal problems between the professor and students. The professor’s syllabus includes a section about her “no begging policy,” which states clearly that any attempts to gain special treatment around her clearly-stated late assignment policy will immediately result in no credit. Clearly stating expectations and guidelines for the course in the syllabus, she said, ensures that the syllabus functions as a contract agreed upon by students and the professor. This factors out bias as a problem between student and professor, and protects against students trying to take advantage of the professor’s compassion for students. She also ensures that students read the syllabus between the first and second class meetings by assigning a Syllabus Quiz, which asks basic reading comprehension questions from the syllabus. These questions help clarify details from the syllabus by drawing attention to key phrases that guide what type of work the professor expects from students.

    Emphasis on the syllabus in this manner also directly affects aspects of in-class teaching, particularly by allowing more humility and transparency from the professor. Since the syllabus serves as the ‘authority,’ the professor feels less pressure to assert a domineering tone over the material. This opens up the possibility of learning alongside students, as the professor does not have to be an ‘expert’ in any kind of final way. I found this particularly helpful, as I have enjoyed classes where the professor chooses books they have not previously analyzed to work through with the class. The helpful aspect of this approach is that the student gets a chance to see the professor’s research method in practice. Students write short essays following each reading, and cite specific references in the text that they think indicate the thesis, method, and goals of the reading(s). The professor’s comments in this interview helped me see how to structure a course to make those types of activities possible while maintaining student accountability.

    I was particularly interested to hear how the professor prepares for her integrated lectures, as they are extremely informative and engaging. On a practical level, the most significant factor that makes these lectures so effective is the time she spends constructing this time outside of the class. For one four hour class meeting, she will put in around 16 hours of work throughout the rest of the week, for a total of around 20 hours. This time is spent not only in thoroughly researching the material, but in constructive questions and activities that evoke the answers she’s looking for from the class. Course objectives and goals, stated in the syllabus, guide how she thinks about what kind of answers she expects of students, and she thinks thoroughly about how to ask questions that will elicit those answers. Questions can be posed in class, followed by close-reading the text together, or through handouts completed either in groups or as homework submitted at the next meeting. This same principle guides construction of all assignments, including test questions.

    Through this interview with my professor, I learned a wealth of helpful pedagogical practices that will influence my teaching philosophy as well as practical implementation of that philosophy. It was a fantastic experience to hear the philosophy and thought processes behind the structure of a course that I find particularly appealing as a student. I hope that I can successfully emulate the practices of my professor, and this interview will contribute to that possibility.

This portfolio last updated: 21-Apr-2020 12:47 PM