Friday, February 29, 2008

Share your teaching anxieties--help plan the next More Thoughtful Teaching Symposium

I need your help in planning the next More Thoughtful Teaching Symposium, "Fear and Anxiety (Yours and Theirs) in Teaching and Learning."

Please leave your comments about fear and anxiety in teaching and learning, as well as your suggestions for related topics to discuss at the May 22 More Thoughtful Teaching Symposium, below. Feel free to comment anonymously, or to e-mail me privately and ljmadsen -at- ucdavis -dot- edu.

Many thanks,


P.S. Want to learn more? Here are some resources on fear and anxiety in teaching and learning:
  • Tomorrow's Professor offers an excellent excerpt from the book To Improve the Academy. It's from the chapter "Preparing Faculty for Pedagogical Change: Helping Faculty Deal with Fear" by Linda C. Hodges of Princeton University.
  • One of my favorite fearless profs is Parker Palmer, author of The Courage to Teach. His essay "Teaching in the Face of Fear" is a must-read.
  • I recently presented with colleagues from four other institutions at the EDUCASE Learning Initiative conference. Here's a link to some resources from that presentation: Fear 2.0 presentation.


Barbara said...


You're my hero. My fear would be to be videotaped! ;-)

As a fellow member of the Women of Fear 2.0, I'm in touch with teacher and student fear at my institution. In fact, I just posted an entry about grades and what they do to kids. Here are some of the fears I think both students and teachers possess:

Many of us fear that we're imposters and not good enough, smart enough, articulate enough, engaging enough, enough enough, and are wracked by the ensuing fear of exposure--what will happen when everyone realizes the truth? What happens in a transparent classroom when we have a bad day? What happens when students are blogging and they write deeply flawed arguments? How will that reflect on the teacher, and on them?

2. Students fear the looming future and how grades somehow are measures of how successful they'll be in that future.

3. I fear losing my creative self and my students' losing their creative selves in the mire of sameness, dullness, and unimaginative educational practices.

4. I'm afraid of the toll stress is taking on us all. Have we lost our sense of humor in the classroom? Why are students resorting to extreme social behaviors? Why do we all complain so much?

Just the fears on my mind this morning. I hope you'll blog your session.


Bardiac said...

Great video!

Wow, where to start?

I get stressed out about students coming in with totally bizarre ideas: Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare, Vaccines cause autism, etc. And because I teach writing classes (and Shakespeare), I need to deal with them without giving the class the impression that I'm smacking the student down. (Which will come back to me badly on evals, of course.)

Grading anxiety is a good one that you've already suggested.

Dealing with troubled students, I think you suggested that. What DO you do with a student who's obviously stinking of alcohol and hungover? A student whose partner may be abusive? (My current school's counseling center has a horrible reputation, alas.)

How do I deal with racism and colonialism (say, in my Shakespeare course) as a white woman? (you can think of different configurations of similar problems of appropriation etc).

As an aside, I did my undergrad at UCD :) But in the stone ages; my major doesn't exist anymore. But it was a great school for me, and I hope your current students love it and learn as much.

hypatia said...

Stage Fright? I do well in small classes but large classes freak me out.

cons-gen said...

Thanks for your cool video blog - I like it - personal touch. What makes me tense? feeling like my lecture is never completely ready and students will think I don't have sufficient knowledge - that they will be bored by what I have to present.

bampost said...

Anxieties that may lead to fruitful discussions:
Anxiety 1. Student evaluations. I seem to always be remembering the 1 bad one even in the face of the 20 complimentary ones. Fruitful discussion fodder: how to use student evaluations productively rather than defensively
Anxiety 2. The threat of threats: feeling safe in the multitudes. Don't talk to me about the politics of fear - there ARE students who think that killing a professor or fellow student is an OK way to proceed. We have data on that. So how do I know the next student isn't in one of MY classes? Just to let you know my anxiety isn't just media-born, I have had at least 3 incidents while teaching large classes (350+) in which a student has approached me very aggressively and expressed anger over a grade in a manner that left me feeling very unsafe. This topic ties in with another, previously mentioned, about identifying and dealing with students who are behaving marginally. Fruitful discussion fodder: What are our resources and recourses in the face of apparently mentally ill or otherwise inappropriate students? What is OUR responsibility in triage? What are ways we can protect ourselves even while trying to help? What is university policy? This stuff is NEVER formally or informally disseminated. I'm sure there's a policy manual SOMEWHERE and I could dig through the web to find it, but in the face of a student threatening to slit his throat or mine (yes, that's happened to me), I think I need a more immediate remedy (and training) than an obscure policy tucked somewhere waiting for my review.
Anxiety 3. Teaching undergraduates in a large-scale research-1 university, also known as losing my soul as an educator. Nothing further need be said... (not likely to be fruitful discussion fodder here...)

Anonymous said...

I thought I'd gotten over concern about teaching evaluations, but now that I've started experimenting in the classroom (not doing what all of my colleagues do, which is a form of lecture), my teaching evaluations have fallen dramatically. It's weird b/c I still get great marks for clarity and many comments about my clarity, organization, engagement. It is just that I also get lots of complaints for not evaluating students in the same ways my colleagues do. I feel great about the work my students are doing as I experiment, and what they are learning . . . but they don't seem to appreciate that they are/might be learning something by doing something other than performing on exams. Will it always be this way? Or will they eventually get accustomed to my "difference"? and what should I do in the meantime?

Anonymous said...

These aren't necessarily my fears -- I offer this list as a service to others. The irony and hyperbole are meant to provoke thought rather to offend.

What Faculty Fear Most

Fears About Grades

Giving grades
Explaining grades
Wondering if we are grading fairly
Wondering if we are evaluating what we should
Keeping up with the grading
Keeping track of all those grades
Will I lose them, or will they be lost electronically for me by someone else?
Managing the piles and piles of papers to be graded
Helping students with their anxiety about grades
Remembering what it means to be graded


Bored students
Having to talk to students in class
Having to talk to them (about their “problems”) in office hours
So many dead grandmothers – should I be attending the funerals?
If I do, who will grade my essays?
Checked out students (crosswords, texting)
Disruptive students
Passively disruptive: talking in class, packing up early
Actively disruptive: rude and unhelpful comments, showboating
Disturbed and disturbing students
Students who want to argue about grades
Religious students and their obsessions
Atheist students and their apathies
What if I’m not a natural teacher? Sometimes I feel like an imposter
The generation gap grows every month, and we just don’t get their “culture”
We think about them all the time, but still we don’t do enough for them
They have no respect for authority; they also don’t trust themselves
We’re not the only ones who need therapists, I tell you
Having to let go of students at the end of the quarter, or perhaps hurrying to let go of them

Making Mistakes

Saying the wrong thing in class
Insulting someone, purposefully or inadvertently
The Political Correctness Police who won’t let you say anything offensive at all!
Wearing the wrong clothes – who has ten weeks of outfits?
I hate to be seen in the same tie twice in a quarter
Saying something embarrassing
Navigating the many-headed hydras, if you know what I mean
Copyright: who have I stolen from? And who is stealing from me?
I’ve decided that my information doesn’t want to be gree
Accidentally making sexual puns during lecture, and not being able to recover
Sexual harassment – keep the office door open during office hours
Don’t even think about it
Negotiating stability and instability, while distrusting both
Not getting enough sleep, and looking for someone to blame


UC Davis tells faculty to prioritize research always
We are anxious to live in a world that devalues teaching
The realization that teaching well won’t earn you tenure
It may earn you ridicule from your peers
None of us is getting any younger
All those unwritten novels
Where is the joy and mystery that I knew as a child?

Educational Technology

Don’t even get me started

Leslie Madsen-Brooks said...

Thanks to everyone for sharing. Please continue to share your fears and ideas.

@ Anonymous 9:37 p.m.: Hilarious and oh so true. Thanks!

Nuala said...

What a great video and what a great series of comments. I agree with BG you are my hero...

A couple of fears:

Fear #1: How can I take risks that I know need to happen (in order to teach better, provide more rigor, open their eyes to new ways of seeing, etc) and be sure that our verrrrry traditional teaching evaluation forms will evaluate for what I did in th here and now vs the past patterns and practices?

Fear #2: what f the people who are evlauating me don"t get it, and yet they are the ones who make or break my continuing on...

Hey what a great Symposium title too!

B (the other one)