Classroom Thoughts

Thoughts about teaching and associated topics. Some good, some bad, random ideas.


I tend to curse in class. It’s not all the time and its nothing my students haven’t heard before. I do explain in the beginning of term that my language may be colorful and that it is not my intention to offend. I highly recommend Jordan Schneider’s article Why I Curse in Class which speaks about the central role of cursing and dispelling the myths we associate with “bad” language. In particular I was struck by  the idea and importance of encouraging, not erasing, personality in the classroom.

I’m encouraging them to find their own voice, to strengthen and develop it. To do that, I have to use my own honest voice, and mine happens to include a lot of words you can’t say on network television. If I have to hold back, they will, too. If I can take risks and speak my mind, so will they.

In the end, though, word choice is something every speaker and writer has to deal with, and is one consideration among many when teaching. Profanity doesn’t define my class or my teaching style. It’s dangerous and risky enough to require some forethought and justification, but that’s something every teacher should be engaging in anyway. It is ultimately up to you to decide what you say and who you are in front of that classroom. I just hope you care enough to think it through. 


Everybody should be part of the discussion. You get to (and should) question authority and test ideas. But “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Or as Patrick Stokes writes No, you’re not entitled to your opinion …

Firstly, what’s an opinion?

Plato distinguished between opinion or common belief (doxa) and certain knowledge, and that’s still a workable distinction today: unlike “1+1=2” or “there are no square circles,” an opinion has a degree of subjectivity and uncertainty to it. But “opinion” ranges from tastes or preferences, through views about questions that concern most people such as prudence or politics, to views grounded in technical expertise, such as legal or scientific opinions.

You can’t really argue about the first kind of opinion. I’d be silly to insist that you’re wrong to think strawberry ice cream is better than chocolate. The problem is that sometimes we implicitly seem to take opinions of the second and even the third sort to be unarguable in the way questions of taste are. Perhaps that’s one reason (no doubt there are others) why enthusiastic amateurs think they’re entitled to disagree with climate scientists and immunologists and have their views “respected.”


Digital Devices in Classroom

TL;DR Laptops and other devices distracting. Writing with pencil better for memory. Results are easily seen in grades.

On the important question of technology in the classroom… Should we not allow laptops, phones and other devices? Science says your’e better off using a pencil. Read Attention, Students: Put Your Laptops Away or The Case Against Laptops in the Classroom or even Shirky’s Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away.


Being the ‘Professor’?

The text Do You Make Them Call You ‘Professor’? by Carrie Preston makes some good points:

But I do clarify upfront how I want to be addressed: Professor Preston, please. Noh lessons taught me to be more comfortable claiming my expertise and authority. By refusing to do so, I was obscuring the very real operations of power in the classroom, including the ritual of grades.

In Sweden, where we have done away with titles, I never asked to be addressed as professor. It wouldn’t have worked either. Here I do. In part is the culture, but in part its because by maintaining the title I am ensuring the authority of all professors not just me. If I was to ignore this, then other professors would appear to be insecure. And there are enough attempts to undermine the authority of junior faculty as it is.

Reading: Must. Read. More.

Academic texts can be a bit overwhelming. Be calm. And check out How to (seriously) read a scientific paper by Elisabeth PainMar.

I especially get overwhelmed if it’s not in my subfield, if it’s long, and if it’s full of technical jargon. When this happens, I break it down into chunks and will read it over the course of a few days, if possible. For really difficult papers, it also helps to sit down and work through it with a colleague. – Shanahan

And How to Read a Scientific Paper by Adam Ruben

Most importantly, if I didn’t understand a word in a sentence, I forbade myself from proceeding to the next sentence until I looked it up in a textbook and then reread the sentence until it made sense.

I specifically remember this happening with the word “exogenous.” Somehow I had always glossed over this word, as though it was probably unimportant to its sentence. Wrong.