Geeky Pedagogy: A Guide for Intellectuals, Introverts, and Nerds Who Want to Be Effective Teachers
reviewed by Brian Miller & Christy McConnell - January 11, 2021
Title: Geeky Pedagogy: A Guide for Intellectuals, Introverts, and Nerds Who Want to Be Effective Teachers
Author(s): Jessamyn Neuhaus
Publisher: West Virginia University Press,
ISBN: 1949199061, Pages: 264, Year: 2019
Search for book at Amazon.com
First, a word of caution. We are education people writing a review for intellectuals who are looking to become better teachers, and who are not necessarily interested in reading about pedagogy. We are not like the audience of this bookwe love pedagogy! So, with that in mind, here we describe the text at hand, then offer some ways that this book might be meaningful for its audience. We then encapsulate some of what we consider to be the big ideas and takeaways as we consider what role this book can play in the vast landscape of pedagogical texts.
While the ideas presented in Geeky Pedagogy will be useful for educators from diverse backgrounds and personality types, the book is written with a particular group in mind: what the author calls GINs (geeky, introvert, nerds). Painting with a broad brush, the author, who identifies as a GIN herself, approaches the task of effective teaching from the perspective that geeky, introvert, intellectual types face particular challenges when it comes to teaching students in the classroom. Perhaps your first response to the title, or to being described as a geeky, introverted nerd is a negative one. But read on! You may find yourself here yet.
The text is organized around five general tasks that effective teachers do: show awareness, preparation, reflection, support, and practice. Each chapter contains a critically reflective narrative that unpacks the idiosyncratic nature of each task for GINs. Avoiding prescriptive step-by-step instructions and lists of tips and tricks, the text offers an account of the unique challenges faced by GINs who are enthralled with their research interests and scholarly work, but nevertheless must enter the classroom and engage students. The author offers practical insights that tap into the strengths that GINs bring to teaching and learning, including a natural curiosity and an intrinsic motivation to learn.
While GINs may face unique challenges that grow out of the particularities of their GIN-ness, Geeky Pedagogy offers insights and practical suggestions that apply to a broader audience as well. Among the topics covered are helpful discussions of the syllabus, class meetings, grading and feedback, and ways to more deeply reflect on student perceptions and evaluations of your teaching. The book is characterized by a critically reflective approach that incorporates practical examples that are gleaned from the authors own successes and failures as a GIN educator. Rather than the typical style of published scholarship on teaching and learning, which includes plenty of academic jargon, research data, diagrams, and tables, Neuhaus writes in a conversational style that is seasoned with references to GIN-friendly sensibilities, including Star Trek, The Hobbit, The Black Panther, Harry Potter, and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Additionally, a glossary includes 58 terms ranging from actionable feedback, disparate teaching realities, and expert blind spot to geek gatekeeping and professor pants. It is truly a glossary like no other.
We teach who we are, writes Parker Palmer (p. 1) in The Courage to Teach. Therefore, self-knowledge is as crucial to good teaching as knowing our students and our subject. In a similar way, Geeky Pedagogy begins from the premise that effective teaching, for GINs, involves awareness of how geeky and nerdy qualities shape the teaching and learning. One of the qualities that GINs bring to teaching is a passion for their subject. However, the expertise that GINs have developed in their field through research and scholarship can also create liabilities in teaching since, as Neuhaus writes, were not actually teaching a subject, were teaching other people how to do things with and through knowledge about that subject (p. 65). Self-awareness, then, is an important quality for GINs, as is a willingness to continue to grow. GINs must learn to embrace their GIN-ness and access that quality to share passion with students in order to be effective teachers.
Perhaps where Geeky Pedagogy is most helpful is in the way it describes particular challenges encountered by GINs in their teaching and then offers strategies for meeting them. The book identifies several aspects of effective teaching that can be especially challenging for GINs, including: (a) care for students and student learning; (b) immediacy and support; (c) authenticity and enthusiasm; and (d) clear communication of ideas and expectations. Being aware of these challenges means thoughtfully preparing for social interactions so that communication can reduce conflicts, misbehavior, and confrontations. In other words, the pathway to becoming more effective teachers means both intentionality and perspective.
Acknowledging the reality that for many GIN teachers there is a perception that their personality might make them seem less available, being interested and caring means taking steps to mitigate this perception; steps like arriving early to class and engaging in chit chat with students, remembering students names, and allowing the syllabus to do some of the cheerleading and encouraging that students need to hear. While GINs do not need to hide their interest in their subject matter or research interests, there is a balance between allowing their geeky passion and expertise to ignite student interest and acting as geek gatekeepers for our subjects. The good news for those of us who identify as GINs is not that we have to change our personality, nor hide our expertise in a field of study. Rather, the good news is that through awareness, preparation, reflection, support, and practice, we, like Sulu in Star Trek Beyond, can be effective teachers who are always relearning about our teaching and our students learning.
As we consider what role this book can play in the broader discourse on effective pedagogy, two themes stand out: (a) the importance of self-knowledge/self-awareness and (b) the commitment to a growth mindset in our own teaching practice. While the importance of self-awareness is not new to teaching, its application in this book for geeky, introverted intellectuals, perhaps is. The idea that GINs, while enjoying certain natural advantages in the academic world, may have to work hard to achieve the kind of self-awareness that will more effectively engage learners is balanced out by the idea that when GINs are able to apply their research skills to teaching and learning in their own context, they will be able to effectively foster student learning. The focus of this book on the unique assets and liabilities of GINs is one unique way this book adds to the pedagogical conversation.
A second takeaway from the book is the idea that effective teaching involves an ongoing commitment to critically reflecting on our teaching practice; in short, a growth mindset. Whether it is in the way we see and respond to student evaluations of our teaching or how we reach out for support through resources such as centers for teaching and learning or professional conferences, the journey toward effective teaching requires approaching our experiences in teaching with an open-minded curiosity in the spirit of discovery; what Buddhists call beginners mind. While acknowledging the emotionally draining contextual realities at most universities these days, the book also highlights how a stance of reflective gratitude and open curiosity can go a long way toward refilling our mental and physical teaching tanks as teachers translating into more meaningful student learning.
As we consider the value of Geeky Pedagogy within the broader landscape of pedagogical texts, a number of things stand out. First, the four pedagogical practices described in the text awareness, preparation, reflection, and support provide a helpful framework for thinking about teaching through the lens of the GIN experience. We believe readers will enjoy the leisurely pace of the text while honing in on the clear focus of the book: the GIN experience provides a unique prism that makes a valuable contribution to the broader pedagogical discourse. Geeks are teachers, too!
Palmer, P. (2017) The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teachers life (20th anniversary ed.). Jossey-Bass.
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