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Bird by Bird

I'm thinking about rewriting my teaching statement for these job applications. Alternatively, I might just write another document, a Teaching Manifesto, intended to reach a broader audience beyond hiring committees, because over the years of my own education and teaching I've reached a specific perspective on educational goals, and I'm starting to think the whole thing deserves to be its own essay.*

Part of the reason I bring this up is because I first heard about the subject of this post, the book Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, in my undergraduate Writing Fellows training seminar, and the Writing Fellows experience continues to inform how I approach teaching. I'm not quite yet at a point where I'm ready to write the shitty first draft (Lamott lingo) of my Teaching Manifesto, but when I do I suspect you'll be the first to hear about it.

Bird by Bird is twenty years old by now, but it's a timeless book for writers because Lamott does a phenomenal job of reaching out and capturing the thoughts and emotions one experiences as a writer. While her intended audience is primarily writers of fiction, writers of all stripes will find in her work someone who is sympathetic to the struggles of professional writing and able to offer up both consolation and kicks in the pants as necessary.

While reading the book, though, I kept thinking back to a comment scrottie made while I was reading Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, by Studs Turkel. He had a hard time with the idea of reading Working because the concept of reading about work just sounded like a whole bunch of work! However, that wasn't my experience of Working - Turkel did such an amazing job of capturing the different workers' voices and their passions for what they were doing and purposes behind their work, that the book is a rich and fascinating compilation about the human experience.

Reading Bird by Bird was closer to work than leisure reading. I read most of the book while traveling, where I didn't have the mental space to settle in and write, so it also involved reading about work instead of just going out and getting work done. Today, after finishing it, I wound up bringing the book in to work so it can sit next to How to Write a Lot, which looms on a bookshelf right above my desk for maximal impact.

And on that note, perhaps I should get back to work.

*The other day on a different social media platform, I posted a rather simple commentary piece on how most students don't know what learning is, but in the same vein, there's some odd tension in the biological sciences over teaching methodologies, too. With teaching philosophies, it can actually be dangerous to be overly pedantic, and at the same time, many biologists teach poorly or use uninformed teaching methods. So - the Manifesto will start with my perspective on the purpose of an undergraduate education, and will then cover specific tools and approaches that should be used to facilitate student development, as informed by my experiences in grad school and as an undergraduate Writing Fellow.


( 3 remarks — Remark )
Dec. 10th, 2014 12:12 am (UTC)
the Manifesto will start with my perspective on the purpose of an undergraduate education
O Great Master, what is the purpose of an undergraduate education?

(with a half-:) because despite my phrasing, I'm actually curious what you think it is.)
Dec. 10th, 2014 03:41 pm (UTC)
Well, this should be part of the Teaching Manifesto, clearly.

My perspective comes from my own education at a $mall, liberal-art$ college, where the goal is to provide both a broad, cross-disciplinary base, as well as a discipline-specific specialization (major, so to speak). I think many people would be inclined to agree with these goals. Tied to this, there are several purposes of an undergraduate education: (1) to acculturate students to how knowledge is gained, and (2) to provide students with skills that promote active citizenship and a beneficial impact on the world around them.

Strangely, not to help them get high-paying jobs. There are multiple ways to find fulfillment.
Dec. 10th, 2014 08:32 pm (UTC)
Rebecca's Steps to Great Teaching

1)Care a lot
2)Be awesome
3)Don't hate
4)Take a break from caring and read fluff
5)Care more
6)Continue to be awesome
7)Bask in the love of your students
( 3 remarks — Remark )

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