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Even Faculty Need Training in How to Teach

Faculty from Comparative Arts & Letters share findings from a two-year project to elevate teaching in their department.

Drawing on a chalkboard of a stick figure teaching in front of a board
Photo by Athree23 via Pixabay

College professors become experts in their field of study during their journey to receive their graduate degrees. But for many of them, that journey does not include training as teachers. In fact, some don’t start teaching until they enter the classroom their first year in professional employment. Over the past two years, Kerry Soper (Popular Culture and Comedy), department chair of Comparative Arts & Letters (CAL), has been working with faculty members in his department to provide resources to address this need. On March 7, 2024, they shared their findings in a roundtable discussion hosted by the Humanities Center.

When Associate Professor Seth Jeppesen (Greek and Roman Literature) reflected back on his graduate experiences, he remembered countless hours memorizing long passages of Greek text, but nothing on writing syllabi or organizing assignments. In discussing this with other faculty members, they realized their current MA students were about to enter the field of academia with a similar handicap. To address this issue, Jeppesen now teaches a course on pedagogy required for all first year Comparative Studies MA students, in which students write syllabi, create assignment prompts, especially for longer writing assignments, and develop learning activities. By going from the overarching structure of the course to the day-to-day class activities, Jeppsen said that students “have a pedagogical toolbox so that when they are asked to teach a class, they have a lot of ideas.”

Soper also saw the need to continue teaching pedagogy to faculty members, who, like Jeppesen, didn’t receive much instruction in their graduate years. Soper instituted a monthly pedagogical book club where faculty members gather for lunch and discuss what they learned and how they can implement these practices into their classrooms. Adjunct faculty member Natalie Nielson (Interdisciplinary Humanities) in particular benefited from attending these lunches. In adjusting her classes, she connected topics from different lessons to reiterate what students learned earlier, which has received tremendous praise from her students. Nielson said, “I’ve had a couple students come in and say ‘thanks for your tests’ . . . . Because I’m hitting on [the same topics] so often, the test is familiar to them.”

Adjunct faculty member Michael Easterling (Interdisciplinary Humanities) also has implemented teaching practices to his classes that have real-world applications to students. He said, “Students are able to go out and do that research on their own from any source that they want. But in class, they have to justify how that source is applicable and academic.”

CAL professors also wanted to increase support for their almost 40 adjunct faculty members. Adjunct faculty like Nielson and Easterling felt disconnected from their full-time counterparts because they didn’t attend department meetings where full-time faculty discussed important information within the department. To help adjunct faculty members feel more connected to the department, Nielson has worked on a resource page that will include pedagogical resources, as well as curriculum, employment, student, and scheduling concerns.

In presenting this information, CAL professors hoped to inspire other professors to consider these initiatives in their own departments while at the same timelearning from others what has worked in the other departments, as they feel the faculty in CAL still have room to improve. Soper said, “Our efforts have accelerated in the last couple of years, and things have come together and felt successful, so we’re trying to build on that [for the future].”

Learn more about the Department of Comparative Arts & Letters.

Visit the Humanities Center Colloquium on Thursdays at 3 p.m. to hear more presentations.