Harvard Educational Review
  1. The Joy of Teaching

    A Practical Guide for New College Instructors

    By Peter Filene

    Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 159 pp. 2005

    Full Text:

    In the last few decades there have been many notable works about teaching and learning in higher education — an important topic, given the fact that most college instructors are trained to be experts in their field and not teachers of their field. The Joy of Teaching: A Practical Guide for New College Instructors is not a radically different contribution to this genre in terms of content, but it is a remarkable synthesis of current literature, gathered into an easy-to-read reference and guidebook for all college instructors — whether they are "new" instructors or not.

    An experienced and respected professor of history and higher education pedagogy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Filene wanted to write a "guidebook — suggestive rather than exhaustive" that would offer "a variety of approaches to expand . . . options" (p. 1). Using first-person pronouns, Filene has written The Joy of Teaching as an easy-to-read dialogue with his readers, honoring readers’ personal styles and pedagogical choices while demonstrating his belief that teaching (in the classroom, outside the classroom, or as the author of a book) is a three-way relationship between subject matter, teacher, and students.

    The Joy of Teaching begins by asking readers to reflect on their own values, beliefs, experiences, and goals. Using that as a foundation for the rest of the book, Filene then covers basic teaching and learning theory (e.g., student development) and the "nuts and bolts" of preparing a course (e.g., how to create a syllabus, preparing lectures and discussions, and evaluation and grading). Readers then consider extracurricular aspects of being a college instructor, including teachable moments outside the classroom, office hours, and the joys (and pitfalls) of meeting and working with students in other informal settings. Filene even offers tips for the tricky balancing of scholarly, academic, and committee work. The book has a rather quiet (and slightly disappointing) ending, with quick summaries of major points and an invitation to readers to continue their dialogue with The Joy of Teaching and campus colleagues. I was left longing for more, especially more details and stories about Filene’s personal journey over his distinguished career. Perhaps that is the point — Filene himself notes that good teachers leave their students in that exact predicament at the end of classes. To satisfy readers like me, he includes an extensive annotated list of resources related to teaching and learning. It would be easy to pick up the book and read through it in a single day, or to refer to sections of it when questions arise during the course of a semester.

    As expected, the book is full of teaching strategies and time-tested tips supported by research and real-life examples. It includes practical and creative ideas (e.g., organizing a syllabus using color coding, having "e-mail office hours" to respond to student e-mails). Despite the short length of the book, there are several templates for collaborative activities, evaluation tools, and lesson planning. A few gentle but helpful themes run through the book in explicit and implicit ways: learn from colleagues, pay attention to unique departmental and campus contexts (of instructors and students), remember that practice makes perfect, and be gentle with yourself. Filene also considers the diversity of his readers and their students, including gender, class, developmental, and ethnicity issues that may come up in the classroom. In both the text and resource lists, he largely overlooks disability as part of student diversity, even though students’ disabilities can affect teaching and learning processes. Still, readers should feel well equipped to handle the basic diversity of students they will encounter.

    Despite the title, The Joy of Teaching does not look at teaching through rose-colored glasses. Filene believes teaching is difficult and complex work that can easily overwhelm both new and experienced instructors. At the same time, Filene’s sense of joy and passion for teaching and learning is also readily apparent, and the book could easily serve as a "mentor" for teachers in any department or campus. This book is useful for college faculty, graduate students learning to teach, academic deans, or any campus center devoted to teaching excellence in higher education.

    W. S. H.
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    Book Notes

    Going to College
    Edited by Elizabeth Evans Getzel and Paul Wehman

    The Joy of Teaching
    By Peter Filene

    Is Bill Cosby Right?
    By Michael Eric Dyson

    Johnny Mad Dog
    By Emmanuel Dongala, translated from the French by Maria Louise Ascher