An Inverse Relationship

It’s strange how my brain works sometimes. I’ll read something that I thought would send my brain spinning and it just lands with a dud. Or I’ll listen to an interview that should be really compelling and I won’t even remember it after the interview has ended. Other times, however, someone will say something in casual conversation and I’ll ruminate on it for weeks. This post is about the latter.

In my role on campus, I help to facilitate new faculty orientation. One of my favorite parts of this job is moderating a panel discussion with second year faculty members. I enjoy this event because it’s a great time for me to reconnect with some newer colleagues at the end of their first year on campus and help them reflect on their ups and downs.

During this year’s panel discussion, one of the second year faculty members was reflecting on his first year as a teacher. This faculty member (I’ll call him Sam) was trained to be a researcher and came to our institution without a whole lot of teaching experience. Since our university places a great deal of weight on teaching, Sam has dedicated time over the last year honing his teaching abilities. He regularly attends professional development sessions and participated in the weeklong online teaching training that we offer. Over the course of the last year, Sam has become a really reflective teacher, which I would argue is one of the necessary traits to becoming a great teacher.

Returning to the panel discussion, I asked the group of second year teachers to share something they had learned from their teaching this past year. Sam thought about the question a bit and answered:

I’ve found that there is an inverse relationship between the amount of time it takes me to create an assignment for students and for me to grade an assignment.

Over the last three weeks, I’ve thought about Sam’s response a lot. At first, I really liked Sam’s scientific and mathematical response. With my physics background, I always appreciate when someone who drops “inverse relationship” into casual conversation.

But the main reason Sam’s comment has resonated with me is that his comment recognizes the importance of instructional planning. During a follow-up question, I asked Sam to elaborate on his observation of this “inverse relationship.” Sam explained that when he would collect his quickly created assignments from students he would realize that some students would think he was asking about one thing when he was really asking another. Sam would then have to spend a lot more time deciding how to assess these students’ responses fairly. Spending a little more time creating the assignment, Sam explained, would have saved him time with grading.

It’s clear that even though he’s early in his tenure as a teacher, Sam has learned an important lesson: well-planned activities and assessments don’t just happen. They take time to develop and tweak and revise. In a way, Sam has arrived at the instructional equivalent of an old adage: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

 

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