plane ticket that conflicts with the final, or some other completely irrational,
unjustifiable quagmire of a situation—I always say, “OK, we can probably
handle that. Let’s sit down and work something out.” I have found over
the years that such an attitude requires no more effort, and is no more of
a strain, than chewing the student out, or trying to create more trouble for
There are particular skills to writing a good exam, to grading the exams
fairly, to determining course grades, and so forth. It requires some genuine
insight to assess a class, determine the students’ level and preparation, and
then pitch the lessons so that the students will understand them and benefit
from them. Again, these matters are addressed in some detail in [KRA1].
Good teaching is a skill that you will hone over a period of years, just like
a good golf game or a good attack on the cello. Talking to colleagues, both
your senior mentors and your peer junior faculty, is an extremely valuable
exercise. It is always useful to bounce your ideas off of others with a similar
set of experiences. Sometimes you can do a thought experiment with your
friends and thereby avoid a cataclysm in the classroom.
Whether you hang your hat in a research department or a teaching de-
partment or (like my own) a department that is a mixture of both, you will
do well to have a positive teaching reputation. You will thereby have the re-
spect and admiration of your students and colleagues, and a definite plus in
your portfolio. It is unlikely that you will get tenure just on the basis of your
teaching alone, but teaching will certainly play a key role in the decision.
Indeed, in most math departments today, if you are a top-notch researcher
but a distinctly lousy teacher, then you will almost certainly not get tenure.
1.4 Getting to Know the Other Aspects of
Your Life
I shall say repeatedly in this book that the three big vectors in an academic
life are
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