the centre for…

I scrapped a number of perfectly terrible domain names for this blog before arriving at “Dry-Erase Writings.” Titles like “The Centre for Learning How not to Be the Worst Teacher Ever”– to be shortened rather eloquently, I think, to CLHBWTE– just didn’t seem to roll off the tongue in the way I thought they would.

The numerous “Centres” that have sprung up in Universities across Canada–for learning, teaching, leadership, excellence, innovation, insert-catch-phrase-here, etc-supply the framework for this project. At McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, teaching and learning support is offered by two “Centres,” the “Student Success Centre” and the “Centre for Leadership and Learning.” Queen’s University in Kingston has a  modestly-titled “Centre for Teaching and Learning,” the University of Waterloo boasts a “Centre for Teaching Excellence,” and, not surprisingly, the University of Toronto outruns ’em all with the longest and arguably swankiest title, “The Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation.”

This blog offers me a site (and others, hopefully) to reflect on what it means to be a Teacher’s Assistant at a Canadian University in the Humanities. I hope to share teaching practices and resources, including handouts and lesson plans that I, as an English Literature TA, have developed and used myself. In my experience, TAs receive little to no training as teachers. This blog is a “centre” for teaching insofar that it attempts to ameliorate that lack of training through an open process of sharing and discussion.

That, however, is where the similarities between this blog and institutional centres for teaching end. Not only can I not profess “excellence” or “innovation” in teaching, but I also cannot so confidently suggest that I could come near to defining either term. What is “teaching excellence,” anyway, when we decide not to measure it by enrollment and monetary standards? What do I want to teach? What do I want students to “take home” from their university classes? And how do I achieve this? What can university educators–TAs and professors alike–learn about teaching outside of the classroom?

Last week in tutorial, students and I discussed how to write an effective conclusion for an English essay. After they finished reading a sample I had written, one student wisely pointed out that it “isn’t exactly conclusive” to conclude with a series of questions. Well, frick, I thought, that’s a bit biting, isn’t it? “You sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about,” another student piped up.  And rightly so, I should add. What the hell am I talking about when I step into tutorial?

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