What’s the one book on teaching you really need?

Teaching is complex. It is a craft–a series of tricks and habits. It is a social skill–requiring empathy and listening. It is an art–rewarding intuition and the ability to conjur a metaphor.

Not surprisingly, most people suck at teaching at the outset. Good teaching has a steep learning curve.

When I sat down to put together a reading list on becoming a good teacher, it struck me that almost everything on the Reading List page thus far, and everything that will follow, qualifies. Teaching is that multivariate.

So I simplified the problem. What is the one book that every beginning graduate student should read, nay, inhale, to make the most progress toward good teaching in a short period of time?

teaching-tips.jpegThe answer, in my opinion, is Wilbert J. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips. This book, with plenty of contributed chapters, is subtitled “Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers”. I discovered Teaching Tips relatively late, when I was assigned, a year before tenure, a 600 student course in Intro Zoology. Holding down the panic, I asked for advice from a number of good teachers. Teaching Tips, hands down, came up in more conversations.

As its subtitle suggests, this book is one-stop-shopping for the beginning teacher. It includes bits on course preparation, different ways students learn (and the activities that promote learning), what to do on your first class meeting, how to grade, deal with cheaters, organize a lecture, lab group or discussion. And it is written in an easy, modular style. The price is a little steep new (especially for a paperback), but there are plenty of used copies floating around. And you will likely want to have your own copy, as you will have to fight the urge not to scribble in the margins.

What’s the best book of practical teaching advice you’ve read?


5 Responses to What’s the one book on teaching you really need?

  1. mpullen says:

    The Quality School by William Glasser is that book for me. It set the framework for me in terms of how to run a class where kindness and excellence are the two simultaneous goals you’re always striving to attain.

  2. I loved loved loved John Bean’s _Engaging Ideas : The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom_. Jossey Bass, 1996. (I’ve summarized a couple of items on my blog, fwiw)

    Curious to check out the others, too.

  3. McKeachie is great — it may be the one book for teaching. For me the one book for new faculty generally — covering teaching, research and university service — is Robert Boice’s Advice For New Faculty. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0205281591/

    Like McKeachie, it’s expensive for a paperback. It isn’t easy to find a cheap used version either, maybe because most people hang on to their copies. It would make a great graduation gift. My university has given Boice to all new faculty hires for the last two years.

  4. Matt says:

    Less a “nuts and bolts of teaching” type book than a condemnation of traditional teaching paradigms, I like Neil Postman’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity.

  5. Miki Louch says:

    One of the best teaching books I’ve read was a non-teaching book: Paul Lemberg’s “Be Unreasonable.” I like the way that he talks about approaching management with a different eye, which is something I think we need more of in the classroom — particularly since the adult learner demographic is no longer confined to 18-21 during the day and 21+ at nights!

    As we continue to fight to keep our students enrolled, and as the demands of the adult learner change, we (as educational institutions AND as businesses) need to start to think in terms of business management in the classroom as well as traditional classroom management.

    I’ve grown rather jaded over the last few years and, if I hear one more “expert” tell me to get my adult learners up and moving around by acting out parts of a sentence, I might not be responsible for my response.

    I’m going to check out what’s recommended here… who knows? I might become less jaded! Thanks!

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