Open Teaching Initiative, Teach@CUNY

The Pedagogical Value of Watching Others Teach

Photo by Anthony Farris:

By Barry Goldberg

Becoming a better teacher is a game of trial and error. Learning how to design curriculum, present material, respond to students, and otherwise integrate oneself into the life of an academic department requires practice.

But my teaching career at CUNY has been shaped by mentor-ship and the chance to work for other faculty as well as direct teaching experience. As a T.A. and Grader at Hunter and Queens College, I watched good scholars and conscientious teachers establish clear expectations for their classes and hold students (usually non-majors) accountable, while engaging them in the study of history by delivering polished lectures, delving into the social history of subjects not typically covered in a survey course, and utilizing an array of audio-visual sources. Watching three professors implement the same course—U.S. History 1865-Present—in three different ways provided me with a unique opportunity to reflect on my own pedagogy and integrate new teaching strategies into my classroom. Indeed, my classes today reflect certain aspects of all three classes for which I worked as either a T.A. or a Grader.

These experiences motivated me to open my classroom this spring to other teachers working in the CUNY system. There is no substitute for teaching experience and learning to adapt pedagogy for specific classes. And of course, teaching is not one-size-fits-all, and individual instructors need the flexibility and freedom to design and mold their own courses. However, observing others can help teachers refresh their teaching strategies and consider new ones. Observation is hardly a passive act that straight-jackets instructors into certain pedagogical approaches. Instead, observation—and the exchanges and discussions between teachers that often follow—is at the heart of innovation and creativity in the classroom.

Barry Goldberg is a doctoral candidate in History at the Graduate Center.

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