There are four infamous words that parents, including me, say to children: “Back in my day … (fill in the blank).” What follows this phrase is usually something like, “I used to walk to school uphill, both ways, barefoot, in the snow.” No matter the context, “Back in my day” serves as a bridge linking the past to the present.
In the summer of 2018—just a little more than 16 years since I had received my undergraduate degree from Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore—I started a new job as a clinical assistant professor several miles north of my alma mater at Towson University. Prior to this appointment, I worked as a clinical audiologist in a children’s hospital as well as an educational audiologist and teacher at a school for the deaf.
As I look “back in my day” of my undergraduate and graduate (University of South Dakota) classes, I discover a new appreciation for my professors and wonder if they encountered the learning curve I am experiencing as I move into academia from the clinic.
Before I started full-time work at Towson, I worked in the university’s clinic as an adjunct clinical supervisor. I supervised four students during the summer, which entailed recording notes for each student’s patient session. “Back in my day,” I completed the notes by putting pen to paper on the evaluation form. However, my first semester as a full-time faculty member, I had nine students. A calculator isn’t needed to figure out nine is greater than four. I knew I couldn’t hand-write nine evaluations per week, keep track of everyone’s notes, and then use those notes to make appropriate constructive criticism.
Modifying the department’s clinic evaluation template and including some preset text provided a more efficient process. My pen-to-paper technique is now a finger-to-keyboard method to capture the details of each session. Using a modified digital template allows me to give more constructive and pointed feedback to my graduate students, plus the students can actually read the summary of their evaluation.
My next “back in the day” moment came when I started preparing class slides. I now truly appreciate the quality of slides my former professors created. Each slide usually contained a few brief bullet points or simply a picture, and my professors would lecture the entire class just using the slides as prompts (my hands are getting cramps again just thinking about it).
Now I’m the teacher and why, oh why, did I not do what they did?! Although I’ve had extensive public speaking experience using slides, somehow I thought each slide should contain about the same amount of text as an essay from Ralph Waldo Emerson!
Putting everything I would cover on the slides actually made it difficult for students to listen as closely or take as many notes as they might otherwise. I also kept switching the technology I used to show the slides. A few weeks into the semester, I stopped being fickle regarding technology and eventually reduced the amount of text per slide. I settled on presenting slides with my cell phone, using it to remotely control the slides and to hold my lecture notes for each slide.
Where copious words once obliviated all white space on each slide, the number of words decreased incrementally throughout the semester. And by my observations, the amount of student note-taking seemed to increased. I’ve often heard another phrase hearkening the past— “If the wheel’s not broken, don’t fix it”—and now I believe it. At the same time, by integrating today’s technology with my presentations, I felt I squirted a little oil on a wheel and helped it roll smoother.
Am I a perfect professor? As much as my pride and ego want to say “yes,” the answer is a resounding “no.”
That’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. I’m learning from my mistakes, seeking advice from the department faculty, and making adjustments where they are needed. Yes, I’m a new clinical assistant professor and if you feel behind my ears, you’ll discover they’re still wet. To complete my use of time-tested metaphors, several times I had to get back on the horse with bruises still fresh.
I strive to improve my teaching by reflecting on the many positive examples from “back in my day.” I can also turn to today’s technology to improve on past examples. And my faculty peers at Towson provide current positive role models and mentors. I know I can do this if I stay flexible and moldable, like Gumby—which was a really good show back in my day.
David Alexander, AuD, CCC-A, is a clinical assistant professor of audiology at Towson University in Maryland. He specializes in pediatric audiology. firstname.lastname@example.org