It Only Took 34 Years for Me to Be the “Cool” Teacher

It was the perfect storm.

The weather was forecast to be perfect. Each student has their own portable chair. And I am getting closer and closer to the end of my teaching career.

If it was ever going to happen, this seemed like the right time.

So I did it. For the first time in my 34-year teaching career at Villanova, I decided to have my class outside.

This was a big step for me.

I don’t think I’ve ever taught without technology. When I first started at Nova, it was a simple overhead projector. But for at least the past 25 years I’ve used PowerPoint and similar programs to help deliver my lectures. For me, teaching and technology were linked at the hip, and I couldn’t imagine walking into the classroom without a computer.

Plus, when I was in college, it always seemed like it was the young, hip faculty who would take their classes outside. That was not me 34 years ago, and it certainly is not me today.

But like I noted above, my teaching career is winding down, and if I was ever going to teach outside, this seemed to be the ideal time to give it a shot. In fact, we have been encouraged to teach outside this semester; that’s part of the reason why every student was given a portable chair.

So this past Friday was the big day. We decided to meet on the grassy lawn in front of one of the dorms on the part of campus that houses mostly freshmen since that is whom I teach. I teach five sections, so I had five separate class meetings, starting at 8:00 am. For each class we formed one big circle. I had organized the students into teams of three the day before, so I had them sit next to their teammates as part of forming the circle.

The first item on the agenda was for them to get to know their teammates a bit, and I have to admit this was my favorite part of the class. It was wonderful hearing them talk to each other. In the regular classroom so far this semester, there is usually complete silence. So this idle chatter was music to my ears.

I then went around and asked everyone what they were thinking of majoring in, and it was refreshing to hear that many of the students had no idea yet what they wanted to study. They’ve got some time to figure that out.

We then talked about the summer book assignment they had – Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. The overwhelming majority of students seemed to really enjoy the book. We were able to discuss issues such as ethical decision making, the value of advertising (or not), and Knight’s hesitation with bringing Nike public.

I was initially worried that I would run out of things to talk about, and that class would be over in 10 minutes. Somehow though, all the classes went the full 50 minutes.

I don’t know what the students thought about having class outside, but I was happy I did it, and I learned a few lessons:

  • don’t sit in the part of the circle that is directly facing the sun. Wearing a mask already steams up my glasses a bit on occasion; wearing it in the sun completely fogged up my glasses a couple of times…
  • don’t sit directly facing the sun while wearing a cardigan sweater and it is 80 degrees…
  • noisy birds can make it hard to hear what someone is saying…
  • the same with cars and trucks; fortunately, there was no lawn cutting going on during my classes…
  • based on these first few lessons learned from my first class, I moved into the shade for the rest of the classes, I took off my cardigan, and I stood in the middle of the circle
  • a circle with 28 students, each maintaining a safe distance of six feet, makes for a pretty big circle. When a student was speaking, I would go stand fairly close by to hear them. There is no way people on the other side of the circle heard a word that the student was saying.
  • the headline of this post is misleading, I’m still not cool…

I’ll find out later this week what the students thought of having class outside. If we decide to do it again, I’m thinking of playing a COVID-19 friendly version of duck-duck-goose.

That big circle has to be good for something…

*top image from Instagram (that is not my class)
**bottom image fromΒ Wikipedia

64 thoughts on “It Only Took 34 Years for Me to Be the “Cool” Teacher

  1. Way to get out of your comfort zone, Jim. I think that we make the most growth when we try something new, even when those things might not go as well as we hoped. I’m happy this was a good experience for you.

    Now I eagerly await your next postβ€”The Hazards of Playing Duck-Duck-Goose.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I think young kids take to it very easily, making the teacher’s job easier. for your ‘oldie students’, they are learning to adapt to the concept, and you did just great –

        Liked by 1 person

  2. As we age, we begin to think we have seen and done it all. That life holds less surprises for us somehow. But your post shows that there is always a “first time” to be had if we look for it. So happy that you took advantage of the pandemic, the weather, and the opportunity. You can now put “teaching al fresco” on your resumΓ©.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So happy to hear to took the dive! Stepped right off the cliff of your comfort zone! Gators are next!!! This Marine will protect you when you and your wife come for a visit! Seriously, this is awesome! I bet you get a lot of great feedback. The birds were just trying to participate…so maybe you could incorporate that seagull math in there! So, were you teaching advertising or was that linked to your accounting lesson? I graduated with an advertising degree but loved the graphics side of it too much to do anything with it. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a fabulous idea and effort Jim. But even if it ends up having to Zoom classes or split them up, this is a great opportunity for students to mingle and start friendships. Social interaction is so important to mental health. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I could definitely lecture outside, Jim. I never use any electronic stuff, it is up on the screen, but I tend to ignore it and just go my own way. I know all this stock exchange, takeover law stuff so well and have so many examples that I don’t need the screen. It would be nice not to have it there as a distraction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the slides just for keeping me on track; plus I like to show a lot of web sites/videos/articles during class that relate to what we are talking about. I think (hope) it’s a nice way to add some variety to the lecture…

      Like

  6. Well Jim, you turned over a new leaf in your teaching journey. Good for you! I am cut out of the same clothe as you. I tried taking a middle school class outside once, and the results were typical with little focus, little work done, and a total bust. Never again!

    Liked by 1 person

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