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Teaching how to teach

My daughter Hannah recently graduated from her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program and will now seek to teach at the university level. She’s actively applying for positions both online and in and around Minnesota where she is currently living with her wife.

She texted me to ask me if I had a copy of my teaching philosophy, some universities ask for one, others just flush it out in the interviews.

I laughed when I read the text as it had been over a decade that I had to create my philosophy on teaching and that was long before being medicated for my ADHD, (two months and going well).

I sent it to her and then reflected on how my ADHD and bouts with mania effected my teaching.

For starters the students appeared to like when I would go WAY off topic when teaching and they seemed to like the personal stories that related to the content as well.

When you live your entire life, (up to now), with a brain that is firing all-the-time, you don’t feel that it’s wrong to do so. I had a few manic moments; I’ve never been officially diagnosed with Bi-Polar one or two but it has been mentioned that when my depression is doing well that I can become manic at times. When teaching, what this means is you may swear, talk about something personal, or have impromptu conversations with the class about the random thoughts that run through your head.

Looking back, I can see that I was maybe entertaining, I taught the material, but my lack of ability to focus, (somewhat made up for by my open office hours), wasn’t helpful.

Here is what I would tell that person, before my Adderall prescription that has brought me down to earth a bit.

The first would be to have a detailed syllabus that has a schedule of events, class to class, or at minimum, week to week.

I tried this towards the end of my employment at Finlandia, but I feel it was too little to late and that’s on me; but a detailed week-by-week schedule would be helpful.

The second thing I would say is to not have unlimited office hours.

I was in my office a lot, but I was also writing, working my online job, and researching. All three of those can be and will be interrupted by students. It also gives the false impression of being friends with students, or more, and that assumption of behavior can take away your credibility, be an advisor academically only.

Always find a way to pass someone who is hanging on by a percentage. I’ve now learned that some students you don’t want to see again in the same class as education is expensive and if a minimum grade isn’t required, (for example in nursing a B was required to “pass”), then find that percentage point. Have the student write a page on what they liked about the class, any type of extra assignment you can think of, offer it to everyone but insist on it for those hanging on.

Lastly, PowerPoints are just that, points on a screen, don’t write out everything on a slide, it bogs down class.

I won’t offer medical advice to anyone but after 54 years of not being treated for my ADHD and now that I am I feel my productivity is on the rise and I’m happy for that and hopefully will never go back to the racing brain and just be productive.

With that in mind I hope to complete my Family Matters book this month and submit it to my author’s file on Amazon, look for an announcement soon.

Brian Keith Foreman is an organizational psychologist teaching remotely, a supervisor at Teaching Family Homes, and a freelance writer and public speaker living in the north woods of Wisconsin, a stones throw from Gogebic County. His podcast on Swell is located at swellcast.com/bkforeman69 and his website is www.briankeithforeman.com. He is the proud father of three, Hannah, Briana, and Bethany and the grandparent of Olive and Thaddeus.

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