When I started this blog I expected to write a lot about teaching. In retrospect it seems that teaching is similar to raising kids and cooking meals in the sense that these are jobs to just shut up and do, as opposed to writing a lot about them. Even so, I have a short series of pieces about teaching queued up. Today’s topic is the fun stuff.
- The most basic enjoyable thing about teaching is watching students catch on to difficult concepts and put pieces together into a better picture of how things work.
- Closely related, it’s great to see students emerging from a course more excited about the material than when they entered it. (Of course, anyone who leaves a course less excited about the material has also learned something valuable. When I was in college I often thought of it as “120 credit hours of things I don’t want to do for the rest of my life.”)
- Preparing lectures provides an excuse to learn a topic in a bit more depth than I’d previously known it. In particular, it’s almost impossible to give a good lecture based only on a surface-level understanding of the material. Rather, it is necessary to know why certain approaches are the right ones. Since this kind of information is not often written down, figuring it out requires a lot of reading between the lines, and this is fun.
- Another excellent kind of intellectual puzzle comes from trying to figure out what is going on in a student’s mind well enough that whatever is wrong with their mental picture can be corrected. When I fail to solve this kind of puzzle, I basically end up repeating the facts over and over, hoping something will sink in.
- Lectures, like other performances, are fun to do well. Nailing a lecture is more than failing to bungle a transition or be confused by an intricate algorithm — a great lecture has a solid focus, a clean motivation, a logical progression through the material, and a punchline where some significant new understanding of the material is reached.
- It feels good to create course material that fills a serious gap in the curriculum.
- Perfecting a collection of course material over time is nice. Even when a collection of course material appears at first to be extremely solid, I find that there are always lectures that want to be moved around, details that should be elaborated or eliminated, arguments that need to be refined, etc.