Successful College Teaching Begins with Throwing Away Your Lecture Notes
reviewed by Karen S. Buchanan - April 12, 2018
Title: Successful College Teaching Begins with Throwing Away Your Lecture Notes
Author(s): Calvin Luther Martin
Publisher: K-Selected Books, Malone
ISBN: 098418273X, Pages: 153, Year: 2017
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The purpose of Successful College Teaching Begins with Throwing Away Your Lecture Notes, as the author explains, is to offer new faculty members a primer on university teaching that can be read in an evening or two. Martin wrote the book for his brother, a new political science professor, who is representative of newly hired PhDs who come to university work with expertise in their discipline but virtually no background in teaching. He aims to address the fear and lack of preparation that these new faculty feel as they approach their first class session, and the book has much to offer a newly minted PhD who is about to step into the first teaching position.
Calvin Luther Martin, PhD, is a retired Rutgers University Associate Professor of History. He has a notable record of fine teaching, scholarship, and numerous professional accomplishments. His teaching experience includes lecturing at Ivy League universities, state universities, and small private colleges. This book articulates his journey from a traditional view of teaching, focused on the scholarly delivery of information, to a philosophy of teaching that puts the student and the learning at the center of the educational pursuit. During this transformative journey, he fell in love with teaching and is passionate about helping new faculty find this magic in the classroom. Martins perspective includes his passion for his discipline and a deep commitment of service to humanity. His tone is honest and brash as he describes the realities that faculty face in higher education. In this book, he discusses his philosophy of teaching, explains how his philosophy impacts his classroom practice, and sometimes even shares how his faith informs both of these aspects of his work.
The strength of Martins work is his focus on the student and his view of his role as a professor. He does a masterful job of helping his readers understand who their students are and all that they bring to the classroom. He draws us into the humanity involved in teaching by helping readers understand that students also bring with them elements of real life, including joys and hardship. Students dont check their complicated selves at the lecture room door, and this reality is part of the equation when it comes to teaching. It is this knowledge of the student, Martin argues, that is the beginning of fine teaching and learning. His knowledge of his students allows him to build connections between his content and students real lives. He then helps readers see how he uses his knowledge of students to build a trusting relationship between professor and student. He describes how he dedicates the first few class sessions to building a classroom community where learning can occur.
Martins philosophy of the role of a professor aligns well with Parker Palmers notion that we teach who we are (2007). He offers this advice to new professors: Occupy the skin of a real human being and you will teach well; occupy the armor of a professor or scholar and you will teach poorly (p. 18). His combined view of the student and his view of the professor encourage the classroom to be a place where mutually shared life interacts with the discipline at hand; a place where a holistic view of life is enriched by new learning.
Martin never cites research to support the strengths noted above, although there is sufficient research to do so. He even takes a dig at the discipline of education, urging readers not to take an education course if they want to learn to teach. I believe this advice is misguided because while much of teaching is an art, there is also substantial science to support effective teaching and learning. This advice actually perpetuates what Martin himself describes as the stepchild status of teaching (p. 102) in the academy.
Readers should know that Martins experience shared here leans very heavily toward working with a traditional undergraduate population in a face-to-face classroom setting. While his philosophical perspective can be helpful to all professors, his examples and tips for how to put these ideas into practice are narrowly limited to a particular student population and a method of delivery.
Martins book is an excellent first read for a newly hired professor just beginning a higher education teaching career. He illuminates the first and most important question that a new professor needs to ask: who are these students? His notions will challenge assumptions about the role of the professor and the role of the student in a college classroom. His book even offers a handful of ideas that can lead to strong teaching. I would, however, encourage new faculty to consider that Martins book just scratches the surface of outstanding teaching. The strong philosophical foundation he provides is a first step. New professors must then pursue educational science around instructional practices that lead to deep and sustained learning.
Palmer, P. (2007) The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher's life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.