Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sometimes I Love My Job

Perhaps the single most fun thing I do at my job as a professor at the University of Colorado is to serve as a judge of the Graduate Teaching Excellence Award. Most of our graduate students have an opportunity to teach as they proceed toward earning their doctorates, first as TAs (Teaching Assistants) leading a discussion or lab session of a large lecture course taught by a professor, and then as GPTIs (Graduate Part-Time Instructors) teaching their own course on a par with the faculty. Each department is invited to nominate its top graduate student teachers (maximum of two each year) for a campus-wide teaching award. The judges, drawn from many different disciplines and departments, then drop in to observe the nominated classes in order to cast their vote for the winners.

So as one of the judges I get the pleasure of sitting in on classes in all kinds of subjects taught by some of the best teachers anywhere.

I always sign up for observation slots early, so I can get the classes that look most luscious. This fall I observed two classes from Theater and Dance, one from Political Science, one from Education, and one from Linguistics. My only regret is that there weren't any nominees this season from French, as I do adore brushing up on those tenses!

I loved all five classes. In a class on the history of musical theater, I learned about the "concept musical," musicals such as Caberet, Chicago, and The Scottsboro Boys, which tie the musical numbers to the advancement of some underlying theme - e..g, in Chicago, cynical commentary on the American criminal justice system. In a class on dance narrative movies, I learned how to analyze film scenes in terms of composition, cinematography, film editing, and art direction: oh, how I wish I could write the assigned paper now - I am so ready! The political science class brought this pitiful non-consumer of news media up to speed on drone strikes in Pakistan and the civil war in Syria. The class on school and society showed me how a brilliant teacher can elicit remarkably candid sharing from diverse students about their own K-12 educational experiences. And in the linguistics class, I learned about the 841 languages (!) of Papua New Guinea, the most linguistically diverse country in the world.

It was a joy to be a student again, scribbling notes. It was all I could do not to raise my hand to ask questions and give my own thoughts in response to provocative queries. I learned so much in the course of the five hours I spent doing these observations. And I even got paid for doing it.

Now comes the un-fun part, of course: having to choose the winners. I so want everybody to win. But that won't happen until the spring, and we can give up to ten awards, and other judges will be weighing in, too, so I won't have to make this agonizing decision all alone.

I'll miss judging this award more than any other single thing when I leave my CU job at the end of this academic year. But you know what? I seem to remember that another retired professor continued to serve on the committee for years after his date of official termination. And I can also be a senior auditor, taking advantage of the chance to sit in on fascinating classes like this not for just one hour, but for an entire semester. The single most delicious part of my job can still continue.

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