241. Teaching Matters

Graduate students often receive little or no training before their first teaching experiences. In this episode, Aeron Haynie and Stephanie Spong join us to discuss the need to support graduate students as they transition into their roles as teachers. Aeron is the Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of New Mexico. And Stephanie is the Director of the Center for Digital Learning, also at the University of New Mexico. They are the co-authors of Teaching Matters: A Guide for Graduate Students. We are also joined today by Jesamyn Neuhaus, who is filling in once again as a guest host.

Show Notes


John: Graduate students often receive little or no training before their first teaching experiences. In this episode, we discuss strategies and resources we can use to support graduate students as they transition into their roles as teachers.


John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John: Our guests today are Aeron Haynie and Stephanie Spong. Aeron is the Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of New Mexico. And Stephanie is the Director of the Center for Digital Learning, also at the University of New Mexico. They are the co-authors of Teaching Matters: A Guide for Graduate Students. We are also joined today by Jesamyn Neuhaus, who is filling in once again as a guest host.

Jessamyn: Hi, everybody.

John: Welcome, Stephanie. And welcome back, Aeron.

Aeron: Thank you.

Stephanie: Thank you.

John: Our teas today are… Are any of you drinking tea today?

Stephanie: Yes. I was telling Aeron, I was most excited about this question because I drink tea every day. But yeah, I’ve got a really nice lavender chamomile today.

John: Very nice.

Jessamyn: Just hearing about that sounds soothing and calming: lavender and chamomile. [LAUGHTER]

Aeron: And I usually drink Earl Grey tea. But this afternoon because I’m having a little issue with my teenager, I’m drinking some mint tea. [LAUGHTER]

John: Which can also be calming.

Jessamyn: Yeah, that’s the theme. I’m drinking plain water. John, how about you?

John: And I am drinking Twinings Irish breakfast tea. So we’ve invited you here to discuss Teaching Matters. Could you tell us a little bit about how this book project came about?

Stephanie: Yeah, I think that this really is a testament to some of Aeron’s really wonderful mentorship of me when I was a graduate student. So we met when Aeron came to the University of New Mexico. I was finishing up my PhD there, and we had the opportunity to work together. And we had a lot of really great conversations about what it meant to teach as a graduate student, how often we were both told to put our teaching last, and really focus on our research. And Aeron was one of the first folks I met who really wanted to have serious conversations about teaching with graduate students. And so I think that that was the real kernel of where this book came from. And Aeron, I don’t know if you want to add to that.

Aeron: Thank you, Stephanie. Yeah, as part of a graduate teaching certificate that I helped develop at the University of New Mexico in cooperation with grad studies, I realized that although there’s some books out there that are specifically for grad students, and then some really nice new books that are coming out that are about teaching in general, that I was really having trouble finding a text that I felt really spoke to graduate students as complex intellectual people who could really think about teaching with the same intellectual excitement as they’re thinking about their research projects. And so we batted around the idea of: Why don’t we write a book ourselves? And that’s how the project started. And we, really, it took years for us to find time to work on it. But oddly, we finished it during the pandemic. So there you go.

Jessamyn: Following up on that, can you say more about that intended audience? Who do you imagine reading and using this book?

Aeron: Yeah, this is definitely a book that is written with graduate students in mind, but I think can still be very useful for new and actually established faculty and part-time instructors who didn’t get pedagogical training or who got some and would like a little bit more. But in terms of the writing of the book and the audience, we also really wanted to acknowledge the very particular positionality of graduate students, the competing demands that graduate students have, to be sometimes new instructors at the same time as they are learning to do important research in their fields. And we also found that we wanted to include as well one of the things that will be, I think, somewhat surprising in this book is that we really wanted to prioritize graduate students as human beings, not just as “brains on sticks,” Jessamyn. [LAUGHTER] That we wanted to think about them and really encourage them to address their own well-being, both mental and physical and social well-being, at the same time as they develop as teachers. We found that when that doesn’t happen, there can be a lot of oppression flowing downward. When grad students feel bullied or not supported by their graduate faculty, then what we sometimes see is a lack of empathy for the students that they’re teaching. So we thought it was very important in our book to really look at wellness and self care, as well as developing solid teaching practices.

Jessamyn: And just to give a shout out to the source there, that wonderful quote, “brains on sticks,” is from Susan Hrach’s book, Minding Bodies, also WVU press.

John: So this discussion of people as human beings might get us banned in Florida, [LAUGHTER] but other than that, I think is a really valuable approach. I thought it might be helpful if maybe we could all talk a little bit about our own experience in grad school in terms of preparation for a career in teaching. A very large share of the people in PhD programs end up in teaching colleges and yet tend to receive very little preparation in teaching. And I think the fact that there were no other books in this category is an indication that that’s an issue that has not been very well addressed in general in pretty much all disciplines. So what was your experience in grad school in terms of being prepared? Stephanie has mentioned a little bit about hers.

Stephanie: Yeah, actually, I think that I was really lucky. In the English department at the University of New Mexico, we got quite a deal of preparation in terms of writing pedagogy. So there was a two-week practicum. And then the culture of the department, when I was there, at least, was really focused on sharing, sharing with one another. So people shared materials, they shared syllabi, sequences, all sorts of things, people were really open to that. And then there was also a real welcoming atmosphere for graduate students to participate in different large assessment projects. So I feel like that was, even though not necessarily directly pedagogical training, it really was for me to really think about… How do people conceptualize learning outcomes? And what makes a good learning outcome? And what happens when you don’t have good learning outcomes? And we also, in the English department, did have a practicum for teaching literature. It was a semester long, but it was much more focused on creating a syllabus, thinking about how to select text. And it really wasn’t as focused on… What do you do in the classroom or online? What do you do when you’re interacting with your students? And what do you do when things don’t go the way that you had planned? I do think that I’m really lucky, though, in the amount of pedagogical training that I received. I think that’s a little bit rare.

Aeron: Yeah, and I’ll add to that. I’m a bit older than Stephanie, and so I had some training, but it was more minimal. But like Stephanie, I learned from my fellow graduate students. Also, I was really fascinated with pedagogy early on. And the one place that I found a community was going to the Pedagogy of the Oppressed Conference that is based on the work of Paulo Freire, and that was wonderful for helping think about early anti-racist pedagogy. But it was very theoretical at the time that I attended it. And what I wanted was… Yes! This is great, this is why I care about teaching. This is why it matters for issues of equity. But how do I actually do it? And how do I do it in my area of expertise, which is also literature? So I’m excited that there are so many more great books, including Jessamyn’s, and other books that are published by West Virginia University Press.

John: Jessamyn?

Jessamyn: I got zero training. I do think it’s changing a little bit, increasingly graduate programs include some attention to teaching. But why do you think it’s still a neglected area? Why does teaching get the short end of the stick when it comes to graduate programs?

Aeron: Yeah, I think that one of the tension points is that PhD programs are at research universities. And faculty at research universities are really brilliant and really good at getting jobs at research universities. And so they’re able to help mentor their graduate students toward those types of jobs. And for some of the graduate students who want a research-oriented job, and who are lucky enough to beat the odds, that works out very well. But I think, as we’ve mentioned earlier, that the majority of jobs, if you’re lucky enough to get a full-time job with benefits, it’s probably going to really emphasize teaching. So I think that that’s part of that disconnect, that faculty often are training their graduate students for jobs like the jobs that they have. I also think, and when we were developing the teaching certificate at the University of New Mexico, one of the things that I realized is that there’s a hesitancy to tell different disciplines how to teach because there’s such a difference in disciplinary teaching. So there’s a difference between having a teaching assistant who is grading for a faculty member, having a teaching assistant who runs a lab, having a teaching assistant in a large sociology class versus having a teaching assistant teaching undergraduates how to write. So because there’s such a difference in what we’re asking graduate students to do, I think that generally folks want to leave it to the disciplinary departments. And I think that that would be great, that would be ideal. As I joke, in Haynie University, when I finally am able to endow a private college in northern New Mexico with my younger brother’s music monies, then I think that ideally, we would have a faculty member who is an expert on pedagogy and an expert on training grad students embedded within each department. But until that happy day, I think that there needs to be a general orientation to the fundamentals of college teaching across modalities, and I think really importantly, that really focuses on equity and inclusion, and the costs when we do not try to teach to the students we have.

John: In my own experience heading our search committee on my department, we normally get a couple of hundred applicants. And typically out of that group, there’s usually three or four who have had some background in teaching or something beyond a one- or two-hour session designed for teaching assistants at some point. And I think part of the problem is exactly as you said, that the people who are selected to teach in graduate programs are selected on the basis of their ability to publish in top journals, and that tends not to favor people who are spending more time improving their teaching and learning. The exceptions tend to be when the people who are in our department, at least in the field of economics, actually work in the scholarship of teaching and learning as their area of expertise. And there’s a few departments that do provide really strong training. And those are the people who tend to move right up to the top of our list when we’re going through a search. Because when we look at the teaching philosophies, for example, that people share… in economics, it probably is worse than in many disciplines… where it says, “Well, I use PowerPoint instead of the Blackboard.” [LAUGHTER] Or, “I try to leave room for students to ask some questions at the end of classes,” or, “I try to bring in the news once in a while into the lectures.” And most of them don’t really go much further than that. So it’s a scenario where I think graduate students would have a bit of an edge in many academic markets if they did have this sort of training. But there’s a shortage of supply given the emphasis on training within the disciplines. So this book is a nice step towards that. And I think one of the things included is that you include a section on writing a teaching philosophy. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Stephanie: Yeah, yeah, we can. It’s so funny that you all asked this question, just about a week and a half ago, a grad student that I’ve worked with before reached out to me and said, “Hey, a group of my colleagues and I are trying to write teaching statements, and we don’t know how. And can you bring up your personal experiences? Should we talk about things that we’re doing in classes?” And it was so nice and handy to just say, “Actually, I have this appendix, let me just send it to her.” And we try to give graduate students a really clear guide, like, “Hey, here’s what you want to do in the first paragraph, here’s what you want to do in the second paragraph.” And try to help them leverage the different kinds of experiences that they have. As Aeron mentioned earlier, you might get a TA for a course and only get to head up one or two sessions or just the lab session. So you’re going to want to think about how to leverage those experiences a little bit differently than say, if you’re the instructor of record for the whole semester. So that is something that I think is really valuable. And in that appendix, we also give graduate students a sense of, you know…If you’re doing a teaching demo on campus, here’s what to bring, here’s how to plan for it. Teaching demos vary wildly across hiring processes, so we try to prepare students for the range of things that they might be asked to do to make them really successful in that job hunt. And I think that one of the things that’s really helpful in the way that we describe, specifically, the teaching philosophy is this notion that you don’t have to be perfect, that the hiring committees really want to know… What are the interesting things that you’re doing? How can you really talk to a group of gen ed students and make this subject come alive? And then also, where are you going from here? You are not expected to be the expert in teaching this field yet. So what are you going to do to learn and grow? And specifically, what are you going to do for this student population to learn and grow and to serve their unique needs?

Jessamyn: I love that point about being perfect. I think everywhere we can chip away at this myth of the super teacher, that professor that we see in all the movies and TV shows, lecturing effortlessly, no notes, and students learn magically, just by listening to this incredibly entertaining person talk. Anywhere we can chip away that, hurray. [LAUGHTER] And actually, speaking of falling flat on your face when you’re teaching, I’m especially interested in chapter five, it’s called “Navigating Classroom Challenges.” I think there’s way too many books about college teaching that don’t adequately empower readers for when things go wrong. And something always goes wrong, one way or the other, at least once. So can you give us an example of a classroom challenge that you discuss and a navigation strategy that you describe?

Aeron: One of the things that we do in that chapter—we also think that’s a very important chapter because everyone is going to have things go wrong or unexpected things happen—is we think it’s very important to distinguish between what we term “rude, disruptive, and hostile,” because oftentimes, we lump them together: Students do things we don’t like. And how do we deal with that? And often, too often, the response is, “Let’s just write everything into the syllabus. Every time someone does something we don’t like, let’s add it. Don’t wear bright colors, don’t drink in class, whatever.” And it becomes a long list of “thou shalt not.” And so in the category of rude, we have a really great anecdote. For this book, by the way, we interviewed many current and former graduate students from lots of different groups and in lots of different disciplines. And I think one of our really interesting anecdotes comes from an international graduate student from Egypt, who had come here, he had gotten lots of training, and he came to the University of New Mexico. And he’s brilliant and a committed teacher. And one of his first classes here on an American campus, he went in, and there were students with their feet up on the desks in front of them. And in his culture, that would be seen as a sign of horrendous disrespect. And so he didn’t say anything, and he left the class at the end. And he went to one of his mentors and said, “I can’t believe this happened. Clearly these students are really rude, and they don’t respect me.” And this mentor, a fellow international graduate student, was able to say, “That’s actually just the American classroom. In certain contexts, it’s much more informal than in some countries. And so it’s not a sign of disrespect, in fact, it means that they’re feeling very comfortable and relaxed in the class, and they feel comfortable with you.” So that I think was a really great example because it, first of all, shows the fact that when we talk about teaching in our book, we really are very much talking about within an American college classroom, and that’s important. But it also highlights the importance of establishing community guidelines, and assuming the best about your students. So spending a day or so or part of a class period, with the students constructing some sort of common guidelines so that you’re all on the same page, and that you can reduce the number of, to use Boice’s term, incivilities in the classroom. Now, there is, of course, quite a difference between a student doing something rude, which could be falling asleep, putting their feet up, doing something disruptive, which Stephanie has a really good example of, or something that could be hostile or threatening. So let’s Stephanie give a really great example of what we would call “disruptive” and how we might handle that.

Stephanie: So I have a story about a class that Aeron and I were actually co-teaching. We were using specifications grading for this particular class, we were really interested in alternative grading methods for our students. And on one particular day, one of our students was, it was at the point in the semester where she was expressing a lot of concerns about her final grade. And so we were talking about it before class started informally, and then the rest of the class kind of filled in, she’s still trying to talk to me about it, I needed to get class started, get the activities rolling. The students were starting that particular day, taking a knowledge-check reading quiz. And she was still trying to engage me in this conversation, even as other students had started doing their work. And this is what we would call kind of disruptive, right? Her actions were making it challenging for the other students to proceed. And so on that day I went over, and I sat down next to her, and I just said, “Hey, other folks are starting the reading quiz. Why don’t we talk about this after class?” And that worked out just fine, she moved forward. I don’t think that she was particularly happy with me during class. But that’s that difference between rude and disruptive, if you are in class, and you’re simply exhibiting that you’re unhappy through your facial expressions or through crossing your arms, then that’s okay, I want to check with you after class, but you’re not keeping the other folks around you from learning. We chatted about it after class. It turned out that this particular student was honestly just really stressed out at that point in the semester about all of her grades. And I think having that 45 minutes to cool off a little bit was helpful for both of us. And then I was able to go through the grading schema with her and make sure she understood what she would be accountable for, what she wasn’t accountable for. And one of the things that was really interesting to me is, I said something along the lines of, “I was really surprised to see your reaction in that way.” And she thought about it for a while, and she said, “Yeah, I’m surprised, too, that’s not really like me.” So I think just making sure that there’s a time and space to talk with students, that doesn’t escalate the situation, we could have continued having this dialogue with everyone around, and that might really escalate the student’s sense of embarrassment, my own sense of needing to preserve some sense of order in the classroom. So having a little space and time was really helpful for that particular instance.

Jessamyn: That’s such an instructive example. And I know personally, learning that I could say, “Thank you for bringing this up, let me think about it,” was transformative. And the way you can de-escalate, as you said, both people’s emotions, just by taking a little bit of time is pretty magic. And the other important point of your story, for listeners, is the reminder that non-traditional grading can meet with a lot of anxiety and resistance. And we go charging in all fired up about our revolutionary practices, [LAUGHTER] thinking, “Oh, students are going to love it.” But if they haven’t done it before, there’s going to be a lot of anxiety and being prepared for that by reading chapters like this, is so important.

John: And that goes far beyond just the alternative grading system,it goes with any new technique that’s being used in the classroom that students are not used to. Because we’re all creatures of habit, and we don’t always accept change as nicely as perhaps we might like others to do.

Jessamyn: So what does your chapter say about the worst-case scenario, the real threatening or dangerous situation?

Aeron: Yeah, thank you, Jessamyn, the hostile or we could say threatening. We want to acknowledge that those exist. And that even if you do everything well, even if you start with the community guidelines, and you establish a sense of classroom community, and you talk to students about things, you can’t control for variables, particularly as we’ve seen in the last year with mask mandates and other unexpected things. So we acknowledge in that chapter that there are groups of instructors who may really feel that hostility more keenly: minoritized faculty members, younger faculty members, faculty members who have some kind of visible disability. So there’s all sorts of things to take into account. But I think that what we want to say for those folks is that, first of all, you want to think about this, [LAUGHTER] you want to think through what might you do in these situations. And then most importantly, realize that you do have the right to ask a student to leave. You do have the right to end class and have you and the other students leave. You have the right to feel safe in the classroom as an instructor. And we encourage everyone to seek out all of their campus resources, whether it be dean of students, whether there is a teaching center, campus security, etc., and really know what your rights are as an instructor. And without scaring new graduate student instructors, we want them to really be armed with that knowledge of what those resources and what their rights are.

John: It’s better to be prepared for the eventuality and to have resources available to address it than to be in that situation and not have an effective strategy to work through. Are there other things that you’d like to share with our listeners about your book?

Aeron: Yeah, I mean, I think going back to the question about our audience, our intended audience, I think, I want to say that we really see this book as being something that a graduate student could just pick up and read on their own, that we’ve written it to be not at all a textbook, but to be very conversational, as well as full of research and resources. We also see that it could be very useful in graduate seminars on pedagogy and a really nice supplement with discipline-specific texts. And sort of along the lines, though, about our intended audience that we realized that graduate TAs are often the least trained, doing the hardest job. That’s something that Stephanie’s always reminding me. And we’re asking them, also, to be in classes where student success matters keenly. Large general education classes are where students can make or break our students and particularly for first-generation college students or college students at risk. Having well trained, having supported graduate instructors is, I think, really key to student success and the health of our research institutions.

John: In my own experience, I had a fellowship, so I didn’t start as a teaching assistant. I was in my third year of graduate training when an instructor left, and they needed someone to teach an upper-level course. And so about three days before the semester, I was asked if I was willing to do that, and I agreed, but the amount of preparation was, as Jessamyn said, non-existent. [LAUGHTER] And I feel really bad for the teaching that I provided that year. And the worst thing is, I ended up with the highest teaching evaluations in the department, something that rarely happened after that. But it says something, perhaps about the emphasis on teaching in a graduate program. I think it was just my enthusiasm for doing it that got me through that. It certainly wasn’t the way in which I taught, it was very much entirely a lecture-based class with lots of exams and assignments. And it’s certainly not the way I would teach anything today. But it was not very good preparation. But you know, we still have a lot of people coming out of graduate programs without that training and arriving on campuses. Might a good audience for this book also be those people who are starting their teaching careers, having left grad school, in preparing for their first semester teaching?

Aeron: Stephanie, do you want to talk about our “Help! My Class Starts in Two Weeks?”

Stephanie: Yeah, absolutely. We have this really nice appendix, that is exactly what Aeron described, “Help! My Class Starts…” I think it’s even just a week, I think that [LAUGHTER] two weeks might be too generous. But it is for exactly the case, John, that you’re describing, when you get handed an opportunity, often, right at the last minute, and you really want to take advantage of it, even though you know, you perhaps don’t have the preparation that you need. And so there is a really nice condensed, basically a checklist in the book, like figure out what you can get access to, figure out what you need to build, here’s how you can move through week by week once the semester starts. So yeah, I think that’s a really nice asset to the book. And I think that there are other ways too in which the book might be suitable for somebody who’s a brand new professor who feels like, “I didn’t really get this in grad school. And now I’m here, and now what?” Because often folks who are brand new to departments feel not quite the same, but also feel kind of betwixt and between the different power structures in a department in ways that, you know, we’ve written about specific to graduate students. But I think that brand new instructors, or faculty, or contingent faculty might also feel particularly in their own experience as well. And I wanted to add this is building off of the story that you told, John, about your first time teaching. One of the things that I do also think is really unique about our book is the number of graduate student voices in the book. And how comforting it might be for a graduate student who doesn’t have anyone else in their department to talk to about this, to hear from some other folks who also maybe had a really hard time their first class and then figured out their way. Or someone who maybe felt like they were experiencing microaggressions in their class. And what did they do to seek out help? So I think that it’s really powerful to have access to in this book is the number of graduate student voices who were really willing to share their story, because they cared so much about it, and their own teaching. So I think that that’s a real gift for readers who are graduate students or who might be new to a job.

Jessamyn: It’s really astounding what a closed-door practice college teaching is, and how it would be seen as really rude to just come into someone’s class. And you have to be really careful if you just want to observe someone else teaching just for your own edification, but it would be a whole big thing. So that’s such an important point about this book. And the way… keeping in mind too departmental cultures might be especially, so that that message, “You’re not alone in this,” is really at the heart of all the best scholarship of teaching and learning, I think, and of professional development, generally.

Aeron: Absolutely. And I think that the notion, as you pointed out, Jessamyn, that we often valorize or highlight these extraordinary teachers, who by the way, are like Jaime Escalante in Stand and Deliver, have heart attacks or you know, that really burnout with that kind of teaching. But what we don’t really talk about are the rough drafts of our teaching, or the false starts, or the things that we’ve done wrong, and the things that we polished, and the things that we’ve had to change and adjust. And I think that’s what we try to really focus on in this book, as well, as a kind of growth mindset on teaching, if you will.

John: We try to encourage that in our students, and it’s probably really good for us to encourage that in each other as well. I know on my campus, we’ve been doing some open classrooms, where we’ve been encouraging people to open up their classrooms and have other people visit, and to meet to talk before the class and then after. It hasn’t caught on as much as I’d like. Partly, it’s because we really got it started in March of 2020, and things seem to be a little disrupted for a bit. [LAUGHTER] And that disruption hasn’t entirely changed. But it’s been a really valuable experience for those people who have participated and the discussions that they have after it are really helpful because, as Jessamyn said, we tend to do all of this behind closed doors, and when things go wrong, we tend to blame ourselves for what’s not working. And it’s really reassuring to hear from other people that they’re experiencing exactly the same barriers and challenges. And I know in the reading groups that Jessamyn and I have done jointly in our two institutions, it really helps people to hear from other people that they’re facing exactly the same challenges and to share some solutions that either have failed miserably, or that worked really well. Because it’s much easier when we recognize that these problems are global, and they’re not local to our own classroom.

Jessamyn: And I couldn’t agree more about learning from our mistakes, having that growth mindset, we’re always learning how to be an effective teacher from our first class to our last. But the pandemic’s really taken a big chunk out of people’s energy and abilities in regards to pedagogical learning. The learning curve was so steep, I mean, really, for everybody, no matter how much you pivoted or not, we were all teaching and learning in this unprecedented time and conditions and still are. So how would you say these past… it’s two full pandemic years now, influence or shape the teaching challenges generally, including maintaining that growth mindset? And what parts of your book do you think are going to be really helpful for people right now?

Stephanie: Yeah, I don’t mean to be hyperbolic in this, but I do really think every chapter and every strategy. Before Aeron and I started this book, we both took very seriously the notion that, listen, if you’re getting a teaching job, now, you’re going to have to teach some sort of hybrid online course. And this was pre-pandemic, it was just like, if you look at the growth in online learning, there’s no way to believe that even in 2019, if you were entering the workforce, that you were never going to have to teach an online course in your career. So we built in the idea of teaching across modalities across the entire book. And then the other piece that we took really seriously, was this notion of asset-based pedagogies, teaching diverse student populations, and really capturing the strength, their cultural wealth, they bring to the classroom. We teach at the University of New Mexico, which is a Hispanic-serving institution, it enrolls a high number of first-generation college students. And it also enrolls a particularly high number of our American Indian or Native college students. So we wanted other folks to get that chance to learn from whose institutions will likely look this way, if they don’t already, in the years to come, to learn from the really great things that we’ve discovered about the kind of strengths and skills and ways of knowing that our students bring to the classroom every day, if we’re able to tap into those. And so I think that those are the two things that the pandemic really uncovered for folks, people’s discomfort with teaching with technology, who hadn’t been asked to do that previously. And then also, all of a sudden, instructors were confronted in a very different way with the variety of lived experiences their students were bringing in, because they were Zooming right into whatever their living experiences were. And so I think that the book really stands through the pandemic experience in a way that can actually really enhance somebody’s experience teaching, because those two things were particularly important to us when we started writing.

Jessamyn: That sounds really empowering for people going into a classroom, those two approaches.

Aeron: We hope so.

Stephanie: Yeah, absolutely.

John: You mentioned that our students bring in many different ways of knowing. How can we adjust our teaching to better serve all of the students in our classes?

Jessamyn: And following up on John’s question, one of your chapters is called “How Can You Create a Welcoming Classroom Community?” How do those strategies empower students?

Stephanie: Absolutely. I think that one of the things… you know, Aeron mentioned earlier, this sense of starting with a community agreement. And part of that process is really getting to know the students in your classroom, and what makes them feel like they’re gonna belong in this space. And what sorts of things make them feel like they wouldn’t. What kinds of things do they need to learn successfully? So there’s a lot in that chapter about establishing a welcoming space, making sure that students know that they belong, and are part of the classroom community. There’s an instructor that we work with here at UNM, she’s in the College of Education, and she always says, “The sum of us is smarter than any one of us individually.” And I think that that’s a really powerful thing to bring into a classroom and help students internalize. John, to your question specifically, in terms of alternative ways of knowing, we had a really great example of this from one of our graduate students actually, who works with the Center for Teaching and Learning. He was sharing recently on a panel, how he teaches in architecture and planning, and he does a lot with water management. Here in New Mexico, we have a really beautiful system of acequias, which is a way to bring water from the Rio Grande into agricultural communities. And so he talked about being able to explain the importance of water management and water resources to his students. And then for them to share back with him memories of being with their parents and cleaning out the acequias or those kinds of experiences. And so there is this way in which, when you take the time to learn about the students that have come into your classrooms, those opportunities can really bubble up for you. And those can be as simple as phrasing questions about course material that allows them to speak about personal experiences in relation to it. It doesn’t have to be a massive unit or changing an entire syllabus, it could be as simple as the kinds of things you do to warm students up for the beginning of a class period, or something you do at the beginning of the semester.

John: To remind students that they’re assets in their classroom, that their prior knowledge serves as an asset that can enrich the classroom environment and discussion.

Stephanie: Absolutely.

Jessamyn: But it’s such a vital point for your book, it’s so great it’s included because I think, coming out of graduate school, we all know that diversity is an educational asset. But it’s like it’s so ingrained and trained in us, I don’t think a lot of people are well equipped to help undergraduates get there as well and perceive diversity as an educational asset. So flagging it in this way in your book is so great.

Aeron: I wanted to add to what Stephanie mentioned that we also address that in our chapter on assessment and assignments. And that, if nothing else, giving your students choices in how they wish to demonstrate their mastery of the subject is quite important. Because they will surprise you, and no matter how clever you are at designing assignments, if you give them some flexibility and allow them to bring in their creativity, then they can show you what some of those connections are. And they can use the technologies that maybe they’re more familiar with even than you are, they can bring in a different approach to the assignment. So that’s something that we encourage as well, that really helps a student’s sense of belonging in that classroom, is choice and autonomy.

Jessamyn: Practically speaking for teaching, especially new teachers, offering students options like that, even if for some reason no student took any option except the very standard one, nonetheless, you have conveyed to them that you care about the diversity of ways that people might express their knowledge and learning. And that’s an important part of a teaching persona and communicating to students that you care about their success. So it works on many levels.

Aeron: Absolutely. And I think being transparent, as transparent as one can. And of course, we want to think about the positionality of graduate students, and there may be reasons why, for instance, graduate students don’t want to come in and say, “Hey, I’ve never taught this before!” I mean, that’s a kind of transparency that might not work for everyone. But as you do gain in expertise, and you do gain in experience, saying, “Hey, I’m going to be doing labor-based grading, and here’s why. Here’s why I’m doing it.” Or, “I’m going to be giving you some choices in how you want to do these assignments and show me your mastery. Here’s why I’m doing that.” I think that the students are smart, and they’re very invested in education, and they’re going to go on to be in lots of other classes. And it’s good for them to get the tools to understand some of the ways that their education can operate and should operate. And then also, I think giving them metacognitive tools as well, encouraging them to reflect on their own learning and their own learning strategies.

Jessamyn: Well, and I think the way you’re prioritizing making the classroom a welcoming, inclusive community goes such a long way. And I won’t say it’s a free pass to totally screw up your class but I also think that when you’ve established trust and communication with students, if you’ve flubbed something, it’s not the end of the world. You’ve already prioritized their success and demonstrated that you really care and hope that they do well. That’s going to cover a lot of, I think it’s Maryellen Weimer’s term, like, teaching sins. You might not be so great at XYZ, but if you’ve paid attention to the things that you’re laying out in the book that goes such a long way with students. Like you say, they know, they know, they’re smart. And when they know that somebody is putting effort into creating a welcoming classroom space, then that really goes such a long way.

Aeron: Absolutely. And I think, to sort of end on a positive note, that if nothing else, what we’ve learned in the last two years is the importance of compassion and recognizing the human, which means that instructors are human as well. And I think if they see, as you put it, Jessamyn, if they see that you are coming from a place of investment in their success, and of common decency, and personal compassion, then you’re going to see that in most cases, they’re going to extend that compassion to you. And we all know there’s going to be times when we need it.

John: Certainly, that’s been a lesson of the last few years, if there’s no other lesson that came from the pandemic. We always end with a question, What’s next?

Aeron: I’ll start and then I’ll let Stephanie add to it. So here’s my boring administrative answer. [LAUGHTER] What’s next is a reorg. We have, at the Center for Teaching and Learning, we’re actually doing away with some of the boundaries between student success, faculty success, online success, face-to-face teaching. And that’s very exciting. So we’re a very large 30-person center that helps support students in terms of student tutoring and student learning, graduate student support and online support. Stephanie and I are also part of a group of staff who are working on a culturally-responsive teaching research project, where we’ve interviewed a number of students to find out from their point of view, what’s working to help them feel a sense of belonging and inclusion in the classroom and what’s not working. Stephanie?

Stephanie: Yeah, I think overlapping with that, the only two things I want to add is, Aeron sort of glossed over this in the reorg, but I think it’s in keeping with the ethos of the book, is that one of the things we’re really focused on as a team in CTL right now is how to treat ourselves as whole humans at work. And how, I think a lot of CTLs all over the place, really took on a lot of work during the pandemic. And some of that is very visible, and some of that’s really invisible, the kind of affective labor that I feel like Lee Skallerup Bessette talks a lot about, that particularly comes to people working in centers for teaching and learning. And so we want to make sure that we’re also a place to work where you can be a whole human in this place, and where we’re also extending compassion to ourselves and taking care of ourselves. And then we’re also working on a project on literary pedagogy. So we’ve been doing some interviews with folks who teach intro to lit courses and trying to figure out… What do you really value? And how are you imparting that to your students? And it’s a project that really grew out of some early research dissertation project from Dr. Angela Zito, who is at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And she’s been partnering with us and was kind enough to let us expand upon her project.

Jessamyn: Great, all of that stuff sounds great.

John: It does. And you know, if you’d like to come back and talk to us about this on the podcast, we’d love to have you back.

Jessamyn: That’s right. [LAUGHTER]

John: So, let’s stay in touch.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Jessamyn: Thank you so much.

John: And thank you, it was really great talking to you. And I’m looking forward to seeing the book. I’ve got it on preorder, and I’m looking forward to its arrival.

Aeron: Thank you so much. Lovely speaking with both of you.

Stephanie: Yeah, thank you so much, everyone.


John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.

John: Editing assistance provided by Anna Croyle, Annalyn Smith, and Joshua Vega.


230. Students Who Are Teachers

Degree programs designed for practicing professionals need to be flexible and adaptive. In this episode, Kathryn Pole joins us to discuss the online master’s program in Literacy Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington. Kathryn is a literacy researcher and teacher educator in the Curriculum and Instruction Department at this institution.

Show Notes


John: Degree programs designed for practicing professionals need to be flexible and adaptive. In this episode we examine one online teacher preparation program.


John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


Rebecca: Our guest today is Kathryn Pole. Kathryn is a literacy researcher and teacher educator in the Curriculum and Instruction Department in the College of Education at the University of Texas at Arlington. She is also the Program Coordinator for the online master’s program in Literacy Studies. Welcome Kathryn.

Kathryn: Hello, it’s a pleasure to be here.

John: Our teas today are… Are you drinking tea?

Kathryn: I am drinking tea. I have a black chocolate tea from the Tea and Spice Exchange. It’s good, and it reminded me of Valentine’s Day, and it pairs well with Girl Scout cookies.

Rebecca: Sounds like a good combo. You’re rocking the afternoon.

John: And to put that in perspective, we’re recording this a day after Valentine’s Day. It’ll be released a little bit later.

Rebecca: It sounds like a real tea cup with a real saucer.

Kathryn: That is true. I love real tea cups.

Rebecca: I love it. I have just an English breakfast today, John.

John: And I am drinking ginger peach black tea.

Rebecca: Yum! We’ve invited you here today to discuss the online advanced graduate teacher certification program in Literacy Studies at UT Arlington. Can you tell us a little bit about the program and the students in the program?

Kathryn: Sure, it’s a master’s degree program designed for already practicing teachers. So these are people who are already teaching in the classroom, but they want to become literacy specialists, or instructional coaches, or curriculum developers in literacy. And currently we have about 325 students in an 18-month program. So somewhere about 100 join in the fall semester or the spring semester or the summer. Many of them are from Texas, but some of them are from other places, and we’ve actually had students around the world in our program. And they range from just a year or two of experience up to… some people say, “Oh, I’m bored with teaching, I’ve been teaching the same thing for 25 years.” And so they decide they want to come back and hone their skills so they can apply for a new job. So they’re kind of from all over the place.

John: And I believe you mentioned that this was an entirely online degree program. Could you talk a little bit about why students might prefer an online degree program?

Kathryn: Yeah, so this is an entirely online program. And over the years, we’ve asked students, we’ve done surveys, or asked even informally, why this program appeals to them. And for one thing, they have to be a practicing teacher to be in the program. And so if they had to come to campus for face-to-face classes it would have to be either in the evenings or on weekends. And a lot of them are women and mothers and they have things to do, they have got soccer practices to get their kids to, or just family time, helping with homework, and all of that. And so they don’t really want to come to school in the evenings or on the weekend. And probably the number one reason is that they appreciate the flexibility of when they work, because while we do a little bit of synchronous work, we have office hours. They’re always optional, and students can either come or they can view recordings that we make following those meetings. So they feel like there’s a lot of flexibility. We have very solid deadlines for things. If an assignment is due on a Friday, it’s due on a Friday, but students can work on it at two in the morning if they want, and a lot of them do. We also have a 100% pass rate on our certification exam for those students who end up taking that, the Reading Specialist exam. And I think a lot of them indicate that that’s really appealing. So those are the two big reasons, I guess. The flexibility and then they know that there’s quality in the program. And then some of them come because they know a faculty member in the program that draws them to us.

Rebecca: So I believe the program started in 1998. Can you talk a little bit about how it evolved?

Kathryn: Yeah, it started in 1998, which was well before my time there, but it started out, they used to call it the “TeleCampus” where the instructors would actually go and be filmed reciting lecture notes and things in front of cameras. And then it just evolved into something that is much more flexible and appealing. And so that’s just evolved a lot. At this point it’s online, and it’s mostly asynchronous. And it’s a 10-course program, so a 30 credit-hour program, that students can finish in as few as about 18 months. Each one of those 10 courses has a lead instructor. And that lead instructor’s job is to select the course materials and set up the objectives and map the course and the assessments to the standards that we’re trying to address. And then that person designs the master course shell. We’re using Canvas right now, and so they’ve got a master shell that they designed so we can easily, pretty flexibly move it from the master shell into a live course shell as courses are beginning so people aren’t constantly rewriting courses. They also create the rubrics and the assessments and the course structure and policies. And then we also have support from our Center for Distance Ed. So if an instructor who’s designing a course needs some help with any aspect of designing a course and getting it up and running they can get help from there. And so we do that because it’s more consistent than those old TeleCampus courses where people were just kind of talking on the fly. And we feel like having this lead instructor idea ensures quality across the program. Our courses change, but if we have an adjunct or a graduate student teaching a course, for example, they don’t change the course at all, they teach what’s handed to them, and it’s pretty standardized at that point. And a couple of other changes. When I first took over the leadership of the program, it was a 36 hour program. And then we were told that we had to shorten it to 30 hours by our university. They were looking to shorten all the master’s degree programs. Figuring out, how do you cut two courses without losing content? That’s been a challenge. And then because we’re a teacher ed program, we have certification standards that we have to meet and our state certification agency change their rules pretty often, and maybe they won’t let us know until about the day after they’ve done it. [LAUGHTER] No, it’s not that bad, [LAUGHTER] but sometimes it does catch us a little bit by surprise. We’ve changed to meet that. And then at the university level, we’ve changed our learning management system a few times. Now we’re with Canvas, but we’ve been with Blackboard, and before that there was this TeleCampus structure. So that kind of changes the way things have worked. And then we’ve also changed, not we but our university, has changed the way we collect and archive important documentation. So that has been all over the place. So there have been a lot of changes along the way. And we just do our best to roll with the punches. I think it’s working really well right now. We’ve maintained this 100% pass rate on our exam, and our students are happy, and enrollment is looking good.

Rebecca: So you mentioned having master courses. How many sections do you usually have of each course?

Kathryn: We have one section of each course each semester, so fall, spring, and summer. And so, sometimes there could be 100 students in one section, but they’re divided into smaller groups, so students really only see about 20 classmates. So we put them into smaller groups, and then we have the equivalent of a TA, we call them instructional associates, who lead those smaller groups as far as discussion boards and those kinds of activities. So one section, but broken into smaller pieces.

John: What would a typical semester’s course load be like for a student in this program?

Kathryn: Every semester, a student will take a full semester-long course that is called a practicum. And so there’s learning within that course, but there also are practical pieces that they need to be able to demonstrate by sending video. And so we assess the video, looking for specific things that they can do that demonstrate how they’re meeting our standards. That’s one course that is an umbrella over the semester, either August to December or January to May. And then they also will take two, seven-week courses. They’ll take one seven week course the first half of that time, and then another seven week course, the second part of that time.

Rebecca: So your practicum is interesting, because we typically think about these as being in-person experiences, and you have an online program, and you mentioned video. Are teachers using the classrooms that they’re already teaching in to do their demonstration videos? Or is there a different structure?

Kathryn: So for the most part they use their own classrooms. And because they’re seeking advanced certification, that’s fine. Typically, each practicum has a different focus. The first practicum is on learning best practices within the field of literacy. So they learn what is good reading instruction, and what is good writing instruction. And how do you move students along based on research. And then the second practicum is working with diverse learners. So they might be looking at working with special education students, or students who speak another language than English at home, or some other form of diversity. And then the third practicum is on literacy leadership. And so in that course they actively mentor another teacher or a paraprofessional or someone who is interested in learning more about literacy within their school. And then they also plan for professional development within literacy. And so they’ll lead, maybe, a workshop or another professional development opportunity for teachers in their school. So they create these videos within those practicum courses. And we have instructors, but we also have people called “field supervisors.” Field supervisors are also experts in the field, and their role is to help the student prepare for these practicum videos. And then to eventually analyze them, evaluate them, and then write up a practicum report helping the students grow along the way. So it works really well to do this online surprisingly. We do think about these in-person practicum supervision, but with these videos we have opportunities to go back and look at things and to call attention to something that we want the student to see. It’s like, “Oh, look, here’s something that you did that was really effective,” or, “Here’s something that if you had asked this question a little different way you might have gotten a different kind of answer or a better answer.” So it gives us really good opportunities to work with our students.

John: One issue that might come up with some of the shorter terms is what happens when there’s some type of natural disaster, say a power outage in the middle of winter as happened in February of 2021. How did people adapt to losing power and internet access and so forth and still keep the online courses progressing?

Kathryn: Yeah, so that was a really interesting thing. I live in a part of Texas where we didn’t have power for… I don’t know, 10 days? Like we had power, but we might only have it for an hour, and then we wouldn’t have power for two hours. And so people’s priority wasn’t hopping on to Canvas to get their work done. It was more like, “Oh, how am I gonna cook dinner?” It was a really tough time. And so what our instructors did was, they just stayed in contact with students as best they could, sending emails and messages through Canvas, and letting students know that we weren’t going to ping them for something that completely wasn’t their fault at all. Even other adults, they need a lot of hand holding. Sometimes they think, “Oh no, I’m going to be in trouble. I’m going to get a bad grade because I didn’t do this work,” and we all understood and so we sent those kind of messages. So if there’s a natural disaster—even if it’s not in Texas, maybe it’s a wildfire in California, or a hurricane that hits the East coast—our university is really good at identifying those online students who are most likely to have been impacted, and they’ll send us those names. And so we can match that with emails that we’re getting from panicking students, and just let them know that we understand and we’re as accommodating as we can be. It’s not that they have forever to finish the assignments, but we do give them grace. We’ll give an incomplete if we need to, to let them catch up. That was a challenge. And of course COVID was a whole different challenge, because we had people who were supposed to be doing practicum in schools and their schools were shut down. And so it was the same sort of story, we just said, “You know, we get it. We’re all in the same situation.” And so we gave a lot of grace for that.

John: Now, you also did a study at some point about the times when students were participating in your classes where you looked at the timestamps on their student submissions. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Kathryn: Yes, another colleague and I, one day we both were talking about how tired we were, [LAUGHTER] and we’re like “Oh, I was up until 11 o’clock working with a student.” And so we thought, ‘Well, I wonder how many of them are actually emailing us, or posting things in Canvas, or trying to get our attention at odd times?’ And so we actually did a study. We requested timestamp data from our Distance Ed office, they were able to pull together all the time stamps that involved students for a period of about two years. And so as we looked at this, we realized there was a really good reason why we were tired, because a lot of our students were logging in and doing work between about 11 o’clock at night and two in the morning, that was a pretty heavy time. And then a lot of them would get up early, and we would see that they were working from 4 a.m. until about 7 a.m. And then, I guess, going on to school. It might not be every day, but it was some days, especially, probably days when assignments were due that evening. They would try to make sure that they had it done in the morning before they left the house. But a lot of our students were working on Saturdays and Sundays, which I guess is to be expected as well. And sort of strange hours then too. Again, early mornings and in the evenings after they were finished with family time. It was very interesting. And so we’ve kind of made a little bit of a shift ourselves, realizing when our students needed us most. I’m not one to be online with my students at 11 o’clock at night, I’m way too tired for that, but I do try to hop online every night between 8:30 and 9:30 or so just to make sure they’re doing okay. And I wake pretty early, and so I’m usually looking at Canvas by about 7:30 in the morning to try to catch those who might have questions in the morning. And also, we’ll hop on Canvas more on Saturdays and Sundays, because we know our students are active and there may be some timely questions. But we’ve also decided… You know what? If I decide to take a nap from one to three, it’s okay, because I’m doing all these other things at different times of day. And I think looking at that has really helped us understand what our students are doing and why it’s important for us to practice self care in this kind of a program as well.

Rebecca: I can imagine. You’ve mentioned family commitments and work commitments of your students. There’s a lot of challenges associated with going to school while you’re a working professional. Are there other challenges that your students have faced or mentioned that you’ve been trying to accommodate in addition to the timing?

Kathryn: There’s always something, you know? [LAUGHTER] Especially now, we’re on the getting better side of it now, but one of the things that was a surprise to us was the impact of COVID. It’s like, well, we knew that they were closing schools, and that that was a disruption. But what we didn’t expect until we started asking students about it and digging deeper into it was that all these other issues, like technology. They were parents whose kids were home all of a sudden instead of being at school and the kids needed to use the computer and their schools were expecting them to be logged in. And maybe that family only had one computer, or maybe if they had two, they had five kids. The parents needed the computer, the kids needed the computer. And so that was a really interesting thing to discover: how much sharing of devices happens in a family. My kids are all grown and they have all their own computers, and so that wasn’t anything that I had to face. But I have a couple of colleagues with younger kids, and they were definitely feeling that as well. But it was a surprise how much device sharing there was. And then also, we realized some of our students were staying at their schools to get their classwork done because they didn’t have internet at home, or they didn’t have stable enough internet at home. And so when their schools were not opened any longer, we found out that they were thinking creatively, I guess. They were going and driving their cars to a McDonald’s or Starbucks and logging into free public Wi-Fi. So those things were challenges and surprises to us. And then just the impact of what it’s like. They’re teaching all day normally, but when it’s your own children, and they’re in your own house, you don’t have quite the same control. And so they were saying, “Well, my kids are just going crazy in my house. If I was at school, I would have everybody at their desk doing work.” And here they were, like, [LAUGHTER] “Oh! Kids.” And also we had students dealing with their own issues. Many of our students reported having COVID themselves or having family members who came down with COVID and they were having to be caretakers. And we had a good number of students and even some of our faculty members who lost a family member to COVID. There’s just a lot of stuff going on. We’ve always got something popping up to deal with and thinking about creative ways to handle it all and keeping people moving along. That’s always an interesting challenge to coordinating a program like this.

Rebecca: Did you find that during COVID, and even now, while these teachers who are also students are handling COVID in their own classrooms, are they using this classroom space or your discussion boards to collaborate and troubleshoot together?

Kathryn: Absolutely. It was fascinating to me to see them because they were sharing. And a lot of instructors, me included, we changed our discussion prompts. Because for a while we were saying, “Okay, well, discuss how guided reading might look in your classroom,” and then all of a sudden it became, “Discuss how guided reading might have looked in your classroom, but now what are you doing in this hybrid, or high flex, or totally online teaching situation?” So they were hopping onto discussion boards, and they were sharing those things, and they were talking about what it was like in their classrooms. And even we as instructors got some really great ideas. It’s like, “Oh, well this might work.” Sharing ideas was a really important piece, but also, this whole sense of built camaraderie. It’s like, “Oh, this is not just me. I am part of this bigger community of people who are trying to find the floor under our feet, while all of this stuff is shifting.” And so they were absolutely doing things like that. They were using the discussion board, I know for sure. They didn’t invite me to it, but they had a Facebook group for second grade teachers who are doing high flex or something. They had several different ways that they were communicating amongst themselves and sharing ideas. And they let me know that they were doing that, and that it was working. So yeah, and I think in a program as big as ours, that was probably one of the more helpful things for them. They got to see what other teachers were doing and what other school districts were doing, or other principals were doing. And some of them would say, “I’m going to tell my principal this.” The things that worked anyway.

John: Now we’ve done some past podcasts where we addressed issues of the emotional pressures put on students or the emotional challenges that our students are facing. We also have talked a little bit on previous podcasts about issues of burnouts among faculty, but the students in your program are kind of getting both sides of that. They’re students working through COVID, and they’re also teachers during COVID. What sort of challenges has that presented for your students?

Kathryn: A lot, even though we’re kind of at this point where we’re almost pretending that COVID is gone, it’s still on our students’ minds. In my county, we’re still seeing 800 or so cases a day, and it’s better than the 4000 we were seeing a few weeks ago, but our students are really feeling this. And I don’t know what the next new thing is going to be because it seems like there’s always something. Probably last year was the hardest because we had both power failures and COVID at the same time, and how do you use technology when you can’t turn on your lights? I think part of the coping that they did was trying to stay in touch with one another and then our faculty being more present than we might have been otherwise, I think we’ve learned to be more present as part of what we learned from that timestamp study. When are our students hanging around? And if we can answer their question 10 minutes after they ask, that’s a whole lot better than making them wait 8 or 10 hours. So I don’t know that there’s a great answer, but I think it has to be something about being present. Both our students being present for one another, which we’ve learned better ways to build into our courses, and then for faculty being more present to our students as well.

Rebecca: You mentioned too, kind of at the top of the episode, about faculty in your program being careful about self care and managing hours and managing time. Could you talk a little bit more about some of those boundaries that you’ve set? And then also the ways that you might be supporting your students in setting some of those same boundaries and finding some similar balance for themselves when they’re taking on quite a bit all at once?

Kathryn: I have a colleague, and I can’t remember exactly how she puts it, but her email signature says something like, “I am responding to this in hours that I have decided are within my work day. Please respond only in those hours that you have decided are within your work day.” And I love that, and I feel like using it on my signature, but I don’t want her to think that I’m stealing it. [LAUGHTER] But I think it’s really important that we do set those boundaries, but at the same time being present. And so being present doesn’t mean being present 24/7. It means being present in those times when our presence is the most helpful. And so we know for sure that our students are not typically working in our courses between 9 a.m. and noon. They might hop on during lunchtime for a little bit, and then they’re not usually in our courses working between one in the afternoon and three or four in the afternoon. And so if we’re going to adjust our schedules, and run our errands, and do those kinds of things, that might be a good way for faculty to think about their use of time. When are the times that we’re most helpful to our students? And when are the times that are best for us to take care of ourselves? And so I think we’re all still working, probably, more than eight hours a day, because that’s just kind of the nature of our work and that’s our passion as well. But we’re not feeling like we have to work all day and late into the night and all weekend, the way that we first thought that we needed to in order to be that presence that our students needed. Did that answer your question?

Rebecca: Yeah, the second part was thinking about supporting your students and also finding balance.

Kathryn: So we also give our students a calendar so they know exactly when things are due. And we typically have them due at some time that is… you know, if they like working at night, we might have something due at 6 a.m. or something like that, just so that those people who want to work at two in the morning can get it done. And so we think about those kinds of things. And we let our students know that the entire course is released at the beginning of the term. And so they can see everything, they can start reading ahead if they want and working ahead if they want. Other than discussions that need to be relatively live within a week’s period of time, they can still prepare in advance if they need to. And if they anticipate something, if their school is having some particularly busy or stressful week, they’re free to work ahead and move things off their plate. And we encourage those kinds of things. And then also, another piece of it is just, again, faculty reminding students that we’re human, and we get it and if things come up, just keep communicating with us and letting us know so that we can be of the most help to them as well.

John: We always end with a question, What’s next?

Kathryn: Oh, we have so many different directions to go. I’m working with a group of colleagues from across the country, about eight different universities in eight different states. And we’re looking at the impact of COVID and beyond. What can we pull out of what we’ve learned from COVID to help refine online teacher education courses? Because there’s a lot there I think. And as we look at it, we find more and more interesting things to analyze. And so we’re working right now on getting that more refined and getting that information out. And then our programs themselves are constantly being refined. We’re looking at new state standards soon and other issues that just pop up. And so keeping in touch with our students and figuring out what’s going to be the next new things that we learn to support them and to keep them moving along, I think that’ll be part of the next steps as well. So there’s kind of no shortage of where to go.

Rebecca: It’s kind of the biz that we’re all in. [LAUGHTER]

Kathryn: Right! [LAUGHTER] Yeah, I think so. These are such interesting times, because we don’t know. I keep reading all these different opinions on whether or not COVID will be over pretty soon, or whether the next new wave is coming. Just thinking about what’ll happen in the future that’s outside of our control, and then figuring out ways to mitigate that in ways that we can control, I think that’s gonna be really important. I don’t think that higher education is going to ever look like it did four years ago. I think that’s gone.

John: Whatever happens with the pandemic, I think we’ve experimented a lot in higher ed, and I think there’s a lot of lessons we can take away. We’ve observed a lot of things that were hidden in the past from faculty as students moved into working from home with very different technology and so forth. So I think you’re right that we are going to see some pretty substantial permanent changes. What they are though is open to discussion, and so your study could be helpful in helping to shape that, perhaps.

Kathryn: Yeah, and some of these things will be decided at levels above our heads. State boards of regents and university administrations will make some of these decisions, but figuring out what it means to be faculty in these programs and then getting everything to align right so that we’re doing the best job for our students I think is going to be really important.

Rebecca: Definitely. Well thank you so much for sharing some of your insights and experiences with us.

Kathryn: You are so welcome. I’ve enjoyed talking to you both.

John: Thank you. It’s great talking to you.


John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.


John: Editing assistance provided by Anna Croyle, Annalyn Smith, and Joshua Vega.