I’m excited about tomorrow. Since kindergarten I’ve felt a combination of cheerful optimism and slightly nervous anticipation for the first day of school, which for me is tomorrow — as the teacher.
I’ve been teaching one version or another of Reporting and News Writing at the University at Albany since 2008, and while I revise the syllabus before and during each semester, after eight years of teaching and 38 as a working journalist I’ve got the core messages down pat. I enjoy preparing for class, working with students, marking up copy (by which I mean grading their writing, even while I’m moaning about it) and (I hope) inspiring promising journalists to stick with it.
And you never stop learning, right? Last week, I became a student for the day, to pick up ideas about teaching.
I participated with SUNY teachers from a variety of disciplines in workshops about How to Improve Student Learning with Teaching Strategies that Promote Effective Active Learning. The real, easier-to-digest title was “Fall Faculty Retreat,” presented by UAlbany’s Institute for Teaching, Learning and Academic Leadership, which offers group and individual training and other resources for teachers seeking to improve their craft.
The biggest takeaway: Research confirms that students learn more by doing stuff than by sitting in a chair while the teacher drones on – and that, if teachers tried, they could do a lot more teaching through active learning than traditional lectures. Makes sense. I can’t pay attention when I’m being lectured, so why should I expect my students to?
Another takeaway: You never know who’ll you run into. During the lunch break a woman and I kept looking at each other. “I feel like I know you,” she said. “Did you ever work at The Saratogian,” I asked. Who hasn’t? Christina Nash, an accomplished teacher with a son almost as old as she was during her stink as a sports clerk, recalled how then Sports Editor Will Springstead brazenly deleted the first three beloved paragraphs of her first story, indelibly impressing on her that whatever you write is no longer yours after it’s turned in. We also caught up on the irrepressible Julie Joly (mother of an aspiring sports writer) and irreverent Michael Korb (for whom everything is sport), among other former Saratogians.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. Active learning comes naturally in a reporting and news writing class. From Day One, students get off their butt to interview, report, synthesize information and write. Mine is a skill-building class for 24 journalism majors and minors who’ve passed the prerequisite Introduction to Journalism and are ready to learn by doing.
Reporting and news writing goes well beyond sentence structure. Students must discern whether information is credible – not always easy — to produce work that is reliable. So I’m not really going off on a tangent when I tell you that I’m pained by the president’s persistent degradation of the media, but also frustrated when mainstream media harps on minor stuff, misses meaningful reporting and crosses the line from reporting to editorializing. No shortage of material for interactive learning, that’s for sure.