The Joy of Teaching: A Practical Guide for New College Instructors

The Joy of Teaching: A Practical Guide for New College Instructors

The Joy of Teaching: A Practical Guide for New College Instructors

The Joy of Teaching: A Practical Guide for New College Instructors


Gathering concepts and techniques borrowed from outstanding college professors, The Joy of Teaching provides helpful guidance for new instructors developing and teaching their first college courses.

Award-winning professor Peter Filene proposes that teaching should not be like a baseball game in which the instructor pitches ideas to students to see whether they hit or strike out. Ideally, he says, teaching should resemble a game of Frisbee in which the teacher invites students to catch ideas and pass them on.

Rather than prescribe any single model for success, Filene lays out the advantages and disadvantages of various pedagogical strategies, inviting new teachers to make choices based on their own personalities, values, and goals. Filene tackles everything from syllabus writing and lecture planning to class discussions, grading, and teacher-student interactions outside the classroom. The book's down-to-earth, accessible style makes it appropriate for new teachers in all fields. Instructors in the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences will all welcome its invaluable tips for successful teaching and learning.


When I started teaching U.S. political history in college in the 1960s, I knew my subject well, but I knew little about how to help other people learn. Before the first class meeting, the chair of the department gave me a list of the students who had enrolled in the course, told me the room number where the class would meet, and handed me a copy of the departmentally adopted textbook. That’s the only help I received. No one gave me any advice on how to set objectives, prepare a syllabus, teach the class, or assess my students’ work. My students and I suffered through the semester, constantly struggling to accommodate each other.

Peter Filene has made the journey into college teaching much easier, more productive, and profoundly more enjoyable. He has crafted a succinct guide for new instructors (as he says, “suggestive rather than exhaustive”). To do so, he has drawn from his years of highly successful experience as a history professor at the University of North Carolina, mixed in important ideas from the literature on teaching and learning, and combined it all with the wisdom and practices of his colleagues. One of the distinctive features of this work is the use of illustrations from course materials in a variety of subjects. He offers a nuts-and-bolts book, providing readers with pithy and sage advice on topics as farranging as planning a course and surviving the diverse demands of a faculty appointment. He also asks his readers to confront two fundamental questions that may not pop into every professor’s mind but the answers to which can, research suggests, make an enormous difference: “What does it mean to be a teacher?” and “How do you view your students and their needs?”

He demonstrates something I’ve long contended (see, for example, Ken Bain, What the Best College Teachers Do [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004]): we can learn much from the practices of outstanding college teachers. Filene is a great teacher who has familiarized himself with the vast body of . . .

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