It's summertime, when children all over the country will be squeezing lemons, adding sugar and water and sitting outside on the curb selling homemade lemonade. Think for a moment about lemonade. Isn’t it remarkable how something so sour can turn into a refreshing, sweet drink, one that conjures up visions of relaxing in the sun or picnicking with family? Before you go on that picnic, take a minute to think about how you can make lemonade out of any sour moments that happened in your classes this academic year. Did you have activities that flopped, readings that students just didn’t understand (or didn’t read at all), disappointing results on exams or underwhelming papers written by your majors? Did you experience hot moments in the classroom that you didn’t handle very well, or awkward interactions with students with whom you had trouble connecting? Did you find yourself short on time so that you had to rush headlong towards the end of the semester, dragging students on the ride with you? Were your student evaluations less than encouraging, or perhaps downright painful to read?
We all have times like these in our classes; sometimes, we have whole semesters that feel like this. I remember struggling through a class one semester that I had taught many times before with great success. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t smooth out the bumps and I was exhausted from trying at the end of every class. Those sour moments can be enervating, distressing and confusing. But they can be catalysts to great teaching too. We can reflect on those moments and take action to prevent them from happening again. If we put them in our rearview mirror too soon, we lose an opportunity to make lemonade and we risk becoming perpetually stuck with recurring sour moments.
Here’s my recipe for making pedagogical lemonade:
Identify the issues that are of most concern to you. When you think back on your semester, which issues stand out?
Squeeze those sour moments for information. What went wrong? Can you pinpoint moments when things went sideways? To help you think about it, try reflective writing, reviewing your own notes, examining student work, and reading student evaluations for clues.
Do your research. On almost any teaching topic, there is a wealth of helpful resources to help you find solutions. Start reading! Check out Temple’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching’s resources or those at any number of teaching centers across the United States. Search for assistance in online faculty development sources such as Faculty Focus, or the Teaching Professor newsletter. Think about investing some time this summer in reading some foundational texts for higher ed instructors, such as How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching or Tools for Teaching. (Some of these resources may be available through your university library.) Or just Google it. And don’t forget, your teaching center has consultants available all summer long to help you think out solutions.
Take Action. After doing your research, commit to making one or two changes to your classroom in the fall semester and then do it! Don’t try to change everything at once; incremental change is the best course of action for long-term success.
Not such a tough recipe to follow, right? Before you stretch out with that hard-earned lemonade, start working on this recipe. Perhaps next semester you’ll find that the sweetness of teaching overpowers the sour.