Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Transition from Graduate School at a Research University to Teaching at a Small College

: "Even though I had been teaching for eight years before I came to Warren Wilson, I found that I still needed pedagogical advice and emotional support from my new colleagues. My dean, my chair, and the other members of the English department have had a good sense of how to be supportive without being overbearing. The orientation for new faculty members before the first week of classes was essential. It was especially helpful that my dean invited well-adjusted second-year professors who were able to speak honestly about the joys of teaching here and about the difficulties they had faced during the previous year. My dean also established informal weekly lunch-time conversations about teaching. It is important for younger faculty members to talk to one another and to hear twenty- and thirty-year teaching veterans explain their pedagogical techniques and their solutions to classroom problems. It is also important to hear that veterans continue to have difficulties with students and that they continue to modify their teaching techniques. Another issue in the adjustment to a new job is that junior faculty members sometimes fear the real and imagined differences in values and entitlements that separate them from their senior colleagues. That fear is minimized or becomes virtually nonexistent in a department where everyone is asked to teach the same course load, as we are at Warren Wilson, and where junior colleagues are encouraged to participate fully in departmental decisions, as I am. It has also helped that senior colleagues speak candidly about the faculty evaluation process and that my school issues a document that explains in detail the review procedure.

Still, I have had some difficulties adjusting, and I have sometimes felt overwhelmed. It is hard to prepare several new courses at once, and one's first semester teaching five days a week and teaching twelve credit hours is bound to have its vicissitudes. I also had never experienced faculty meetings and committee work. And it is tough when new hires haven't finished their dissertation, which I hadn't. Although I had assured myself that I would be finished before moving to North Carolina two summers ago, I did not, as it happened, defend and deposit until the following May."

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