Review: From Research to Teaching

From Research to Teaching: A Guide to Beginning Your Classroom Career, Michael Kibbe. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: A practical guide for those transitioning from graduate research to teaching, focusing on what teachers must do and must know.

One of the basic premises about going to graduate school is that you learn a lot about a little. This is especially so with the Ph.D. in which one delves deeply into a mere sliver of knowledge no one has really studied before. It is absolutely intriguing–the ultimate detective story. It is also utterly humbling, because you realize the limits of human knowledge. Every sliver is like this. One of the things you likely will not learn a lot about is teaching. Universities often have special departments designed just to help faculty learn how to teach. For most faculty, that is a big part of what they do.

Michael Kibbe has given us a very practical guide to making the transition from graduate researcher to teacher. And I mean practical. This is one of the clearest and most concise books I’ve seen on this subject. This is the simplicity on the other side of complexity. One recognizes that there is a lot of thought, theory, and practice packed into these pages on a very simple framework.

First, Kibbe addresses what teachers must do. He begins with their preparation before setting foot in the classroom. You wouldn’t think this comes first, but he urges people to “finish the job” and publish the dissertation while it is fresh. He urges the reading of books on pedagogy, applying one’s research skills to this new world. He stresses the importance of mentors who know how to train teachers and will push you. Finally, there is the work of class prep. He suggests each term to expand a session or group of sessions into a whole course.

Then there is the work in the classroom. He suggests thinking of sessions in terms of parts of a story you are telling. You also have to plan a good ending, or as he calls it, “land the plane.” He thinks that every great teacher has a signature–something that makes them memorable. My high school math teacher’s signature was Harvey, the invisible rabbit who he would engage during lectures. You see, I still remember forty-five years later! Another way of emphasizing story is to know the center, and keep moving toward it. The work isn’t done when the class is though. The work is done with reflection after the class in which one writes down immediately one’s observations, particularly what didn’t go well and follows up on it and then takes sabbaths, because you are not God.

The second part of the book addresses what teachers must know. They have to know their mission, the center, and how they will get there, or method. He unpacks what this looks like for him. Good teachers know their students–their names, the places they eat and live, and what we learn about them, written down after meetings so we remember. Without getting weird, he urges pursuing them, especially if they are not getting taught, challenging them, and helping them set realistic expectations. In the same chapter, he urges knowing our families, and offers very wise counsel for relating with one’s spouse. We must also know our limitations and have peers, people not in our discipline, and others who won’t let us dominate the room. We also must know our power, that the most effective teachers can also do the greatest damage. He warns about the dangers of social media: slander, the gullibility even of the educated for clickbait, and self-promotion.

Besides what you know and what you do, he includes appendices for how to use you dissertation in the classroom (one class, where you help people see how deep the rabbit hole can go), for graduate schools to incorporate training in pedagogy, and finally one on great teaching resources our students need us to read, our admins need us to read, and ourselves need us to read.

In lively, even imperative terms, Kibbe lays out the work in which teachers must be engaged for a lifetime. He suggests that aside from publishing the dissertation, we are never done with the other things (and woe to us if we think we are or become indifferent to them). Contrary to the subtitle, this is not just for beginning one’s classroom career. Rather, Kibbe offers us core practices for a lifetime that will enrich both us and our students. This book is a little gem!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

The Digital University

I am reading several books at present on higher education. One of these is Jose’ Antonio Bowen’s Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of your College Classroom Will Improve Student LearningIt is a thought-provoking book about how the digital revolution is shaping the world of higher education

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Much has been made of the new possibilities the digital revolution makes possible in terms of online course work, free university-level education through vehicles like Coursera, and the sheer fact that everything taught in class can probably be found on one’s smartphone, perhaps with higher quality presentation value. Many are looking at the potential cost savings these technologies offer and wondering about the future of brick and mortar colleges and universities.

One of the points that Bowen focuses on, however, focuses around the “analog” nature of teaching. True teaching is not simply about the transfer of information, which may be done more effectively through vehicles like those mentioned above. Rather, it is about the relationship between teacher and student–a face to face interaction, not only in class but at a local coffee shop or in an office or lab. Granted, some of this may be done online and this could actually enhance teacher effectiveness.

Bowen’s point is that in this revolution, professors need to re-think their role and what they do in the classroom. He advocates for using all this technology–but outside the classroom by both curating the online content to direct students to the best content sources, through using podcasts, blogs, and tweets to personalize this to the class, and then using class time for critical interaction about this content and applicative exercises that require doing the outside of class work necessary for good preparation.

This makes good sense to me. Most professors cannot deliver lectures nearly as engaging as what may be found online (and Bowen allows that where one can do this, or this is the best way to present certain forms of material, professors should still do this). What they can do is guide the learning process and provide living models of thoughtful scholarship in their area of training. It seems that this work of re-thinking classroom teaching is essential. If resisted, I could easily see a greater move to digital university providers with the University of Phoenix and their ilk becoming the iTunes and Amazon of higher education.

If you are around the world of higher education, what do you think the landscape of higher education will look like in ten years? How do you think (or do you think) teaching needs to adapt to this “brave new world”?