8 CHAPTER 1. THE MEANING OF LIFE 1.3 Getting to Know Your Teaching Teaching is exciting and rewarding and can also be fun. Interacting with bright young people is certainly one of the finer things in life. Explaining important ideas to a receptive audience is fulfilling, and is also important for bringing a new generation of young adults up to speed in our discipline. You are fortunate to be part of a vocation that puts you front and center in this process. Make the most of it. What does this mean? First of all, you will get a whole lot more out of your teaching—and everyone else will too—if you are reasonably good at it. The ability to teach well is not something you are just born with—like the ability to hear with perfect pitch. It is a cultivated skill, and one that you should start working on right away—see Section 2.1. Some of the traits of a good teacher are simply matters of tending to business: You prepare your lectures carefully, you write a good syllabus, you choose an appropriate and readable text. Other traits are special and personal and will require hard work. You will probably have had some experience as a teaching assistant, or TA, and that is an activity that resembles teaching. But really teaching— being in charge of a class, writing the exams, assigning the grades, handling the problem situations—is a rather more sophisticated activity. I may humbly suggest that you consult the book [KRA1], which will give you the full story on almost every aspect of teaching, and more particularly of teaching mathematics. God is in the details, and you will find that the enterprise of teaching is certainly a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Preparation is a big part of being an effective teacher. You want to convey the immediate and powerful impression that you are a professional who is on top of the material and who knows how to communicate it. Many of your other shortcomings will be forgiven, or at least overlooked, if it is clear that you are a pro who is doing his/her best to do a top-notch job. You want to be courteous, kind, and fair. I have always gotten along well with my classes and garnered reasonably good teaching evaluations,4 but in recent years I have done even better than usual because students warm up to the fact that I am so easygoing. I think this means that when they come to me with a problem—a forgotten assignment, or an overslept exam, or a 4 There are a few exceptions, such as the teaching evaluation that said that I should not be allowed to teach any biped in any state west of the Mississippi.
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