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Teaching in the Department of Social Sciences


Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.
-- Goethe
The Department's teaching mission is set within the context of a larger environment designed to develop the character of each cadet and to inculcate attitudes and patterns of behavior central to the duties of public leadership. West Point is an educational institution, but it is much more than that, too. It has a special purpose: to provide officers for the U.S. Army. Our activities must educate cadets in the disciplines we teach in a way that contributes to the attainment of that final, distinctive mission. All Departments and activities of the Military Academy take their bearings from that purpose. We all seek, in our own areas of endeavor, to develop in each cadet the traits of courage, wisdom, self-restraint, just dealing, and moral and intellectual strength. Each of these virtues is part of the "whole" toward which the experience at West Point strains.
Two points (at least) follow from this condition and give shape to our own teaching efforts: (1) the work of every department and activity contributes importantly to the overarching Academy mission, touching each and every cadet; and (2) the experience at West Point exercises cadets' abilities in all areas of endeavor, placing heavy and diverse demands on their time and interests in ways not normally found in civilian institutions. For teachers in the Department of Social Sciences this special environment means that cadets bring to our classrooms wide exposure to quality instruction in many other fields, and proven or maturing abilities in activities apart from academics. We can benefit from these accomplishments, but we also must show each cadet where time with us fits into the total program at West Point, and into its overall developmental purpose. From a very practical standpoint, it also means that we, as teachers, must find a way to communicate with –to educate --students who are more than students --who must think about and do many other things outside the classroom. They have chosen this special challenge, and so it is ours as well.
Jacques Barzun has written in Teacher in America that teaching is best understood as an intellectual encounter in which one mind seeks to modify another: from the teacher the student absorbs substantive knowledge but also, beyond that, acquires disciplined habits of thought, reflection, and attentiveness. In the process, with considerable effort from both teacher and student, the latter becomes more learned and, additionally, develops the intellectual tools and attitudes that will take the student farther, when the instant encounter has ended, and when the student has at last been left to his or her own devices.
This notion of teaching is, of course, the ideal, and an abbreviated outline of it at that. To help translate it into practice --into some more concrete explanation of what teachers do --it may be helpful to understand, first, what learning is. There are several "kinds" of learning that professional educators seek to promote. First, there is fact learning: the obtaining of verifiable information through observing, experiencing, reading or listening. We hope, obviously, that our students will learn the basic factual information that concerns each of our disciplines. Some of this information they will have acquired elsewhere, from earlier studies in high school or college or at USMA. But a good deal of our effort will be devoted to teaching --or, to their learning --at this level, too.
Second, there is concept learning, or learning of information that is not verifiable except by pre-arranged, culturally derived definition. This kind of learning involves the naming and grouping of facts, the organizing of knowledge into useful bundles by means of intellectual abstractions. Next, there is principle learning, which involves the derivation of "rules" that deal with cause and effect. Students are exposed to propositions and theories, built from concepts, which explain the "realities" with which we are concerned.
Attitude learning involves the self-conscious development or adoption of a mental set or position about facts, concepts, theories, and action. It also entails awareness of how that mental set was derived, as well as the ability to evaluate it, or to know its limits.
Skill learning develops skills in the analytical methods used in the disciplines we teach, acquainting students with their strengths and limitations. Clearly we hope to work with students at all these levels, fostering intellectual growth at each one. Still, what do teachers in particular courses, and in particular lessons, in order to accomplish their goals? How do teachers conceive of their practical task? What action-oriented goals do they have in mind, beyond ideas about the levels of intellectual activity at which attentive and diligent students will operate?
Speaking again in unavoidably general terms, the following formula may be suggestive: the teacher's mission is to expose the students to the substance treated in the course, and to teach them "to think". For each cadet, the instructor attempts to close the gap between the student's entry posture --initial knowledge and reasoning ability --and the ultimate goals of mastery of the subject matter and detached, critical, disciplined, thinking about that material.
Mastery of the subject matter clearly requires that the Department as a whole lead its students through the data with which our disciplines are concerned, exposing them to the major organizing concepts, propositions, and theories already developed by specialists, and acquainting them with the major methodological approaches those specialists have used. In the final analysis, this process is one of putting the cadets in touch with the great ideas and minds in each area. In terms of the previously-noted "kinds" of learning, it requires students to operate at the levels of learning facts, concepts, theories, and methods of analysis. Progress toward the second goal --development of reasoning skills --is in a sense a product of efforts toward the first. We hope, particularly, to develop capacities in creative thinking (the ability to recognize relationships that lead to new ideas), logical thinking (facility in creating hypotheses and detecting fallacies), and critical thinking (an instinct for the tough, central questions, and an ability to evaluate and to make judgments). Ultimately our aim is to help cadets think sensibly as they develop and evaluate their own attitudinal postures in our disciplines and in others.
The teacher's artistry consists of determining where students stand with respect to those two goals, in making each student aware of the need for (and value of) improvement, and in structuring courses and individual lessons that energize the students and lead them in the direction of personal growth.
Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each student obviously takes time, in each semester, and in each course. But indications will begin to emerge early if teachers actively seek them out in classroom discussions, in diagnostic analytical and writing exercises, and so forth. A section of cadets will in that way quickly disaggregate into specific, individual teaching and learning challenges. At the outset, however, it is possible to make some general observations about typical cadet entry postures --abilities and attitudes --that may be useful in devising aggregate approaches to courses, lessons, and the teaching mission.
One generalization sets parameters for all the others: the student body at West Point is a very high quality one measured by the standards of potential and achievement applied to cadets' contemporaries. Our students were achievers in high school, and they arrive here with intellectual capabilities comparable to those of entering classes at the best civilian universities. Many of them, indeed, will startle you with their maturity and intellectual capacity. They are, moreover, earnestly mission oriented: they will try very hard to do what they know is expected of them, even though it may be painful or inconvenient to do so.
For new instructors and particularly for those who did not attend West Point, important insights about cadets can be gained by observing them when they run their Indoor Obstacle Course Test --a particularly demanding, mandatory test of physical strength, agility, and stamina. None of them look forward to that exercise. In fact, many of them quite literally hate it. Yet they all strain to the utmost to do their best. They finish it wheezing and gasping, collapsed and sprawled in the gymnasium hallways, heads in their hands or between their knees, holding to one another for support, and encouraging, consoling, or commiserating with their classmates. Some of them do not even have the strength to speak when they have finished, they have tried so hard. And they all knew, before they started, that it would end just that way.
Three minutes of physical exertion is not, of course, quite the same as a semester's devotion to concentrated intellectual exercise. However, it is no distortion of the teaching challenge to understand it as one of energizing that potential for commitment to their academic endeavors.
As a rule, however, these young people have come to USMA from an educational culture in which the knowledge they have acquired is in large part nonliterary in origin and nonverbal. They know a great deal about what has happened in their lifetimes --they have learned from sounds and images brought to them, indeed, forced upon them incessantly, by electronic media communicating bits of data in near real-time. They understand knowledge as something that is acquired quickly and effortlessly by essentially passive observers, and which may be just as easily communicated to others and understood in bursts, in graphics, and in numbers. They are not comfortable in the "other" world of written ideas, reflection, and analysis, or with disciplined, careful intellectual discourse. They are particularly discomfited, in that realm, by uncertainty, or by the apparent need to make personal judgments with which reasonable people may differ.
Beyond their educational culture, there are certain special impediments to student achievement that spring from the distinctive USMA mission. The West Point experience challenges cadets to pursue excellence in many different areas -- academics, athletics, military development, and so forth --and the challenges are inexorable and unrelenting. Very few cadets can excel in all. Some, indeed, in the face of these many challenges, and in the light of the stiff competition and the demanding standards of evaluation applied to all, may either (1) have lost some confidence in their abilities, with consequent lowering of expectations and effort, or (2) have decided that they must devote less effort to, say, academics, or to courses that they may be able to handle with relative ease, in order to devote more time and effort to more troublesome areas. Low achievement, then, or apparent satisfaction with mid-range achievement, may reflect the student's own self-image and conscious choices about apportionment of time, as much or more than they reflect ability or potential. Dealing with these attitudes is a special challenge for teachers, of course. Sensitivity to it may help you open avenues of personal development that cadets themselves have foreclosed, by teaching them the value of trying, of transcending initial failure or disappointment, and of simply getting better through that effort.
There are other learning impediments --not peculiar to West Point but nevertheless as important here as elsewhere --that operate more subtly, in the essentially anti-intellectual dynamics of peer pressure. We may expect to encounter these impediments regularly. Each instructor must find his or her own way to deal with them or to work through them, and to inspire cadets to overcome them.
Some cadets may become captives of a palpable "cruise ethic" that values conservation of effort more than its expenditure. Distinction in any field is prized and admired, to be sure, but mainly that distinction which is effortless and clear. This attitude may reflect in part the prominent emphasis on excellence in academics as the primary mark of distinction. If that is the recognized standard, and if only a relatively few cadets with unusual talent can separate themselves meaningfully from the crowd, then some may see little point in working hard for "B's", and thereby falling short. This mindset, of course, denies or overlooks the intrinsic value of personal, individual growth. Students captured by it may leave West Point little better than when they arrived, in terms of intellectual development, if teachers permit such attitudes to go unchallenged.
There is a long-standing tradition of postponing work until the last minute (often quite literally), even when requirements have been known for months, and even when periodic reminders about impending due dates are issued. This view is in part a product of the busy schedules cadets must keep. Over time it has acquired a life of its own, sanctioning procrastination even when there is no need to procrastinate. Related to this view is the sentiment that cadets "own" the weekends and holidays --those are for rest, relaxation, and recuperation from academic and other rigors, not for work on requirements still distant in time. One effect of this approach is particularly noticeable: on analytical or writing assignments, many cadets will hand in for grade what amounts to a rough draft; simply because they do not approach such requirements with any time perspective.
There is a certain tendency among some cadets to describe themselves, and to behave, either as "numbers" persons or "words" persons. By this label, they mean that in terms of natural predisposition and talent they are relatively better or worse in one type of skill than the other. To some extent, of course, these self--characterizations may be perfectly accurate. Some students are better in verbal skills than in the mathematical ones, and vice versa. If there is a weakness in one or the other areas, the curriculum here will find it; there is no place to hide. But the consigning of oneself to one category or the other also may become in effect a self-fulfilling prophecy that creates its own realities, excusing beforehand effort and results that are less than satisfactory. Teachers in the social sciences are likely to encounter this perspective regularly with cadets remarking, in so many words, that they are adept at quick, quantum leaps in reasoning, but impatient with more laborious, discursive exposition or criticism of rationales. Also important, though not many will articulate it, is a basic unease with, and perhaps disdain for, what appear to be unavoidably subjective judgments rendered in a context of uncertainty. Whether teachers can change these attitudes about "self" and about the nature of academics in the course of a semester is problematic. Consciousness of them may improve the Department's collective ability to broaden the outlook of individual cadets over the course of their total experience at West Point.
A related attitude that teachers will encounter from time to time reflects a point of view that has many adherents in the officer corps at large: that the analytical and methodological skills important to the social sciences in general, and to our disciplines in particular, are not relevant to those things at which officers are expected to excel. This attitude will be particularly evident in cadets' approaches to writing requirements, though it also operates in other spheres. Cadets will be quick to absorb the wisdom --which we all have heard in the field --that one can be a valuable officer without being able to "write". Many, as a result, will treat writing requirements as essentially transitory afflictions peculiar to particular courses or disciplines, and separate from the larger problems of military life.
More subtly, cadets will tend to regard "writing" as separable from "thinking". They do not understand the written product as tangible evidence of thinking processes and abilities, nor do they understand that in most endeavors inside and outside the Army their superiors will make judgments about them based in significant part on what they produce in writing.
Furthermore, when told that "good" writing is valued, many cadets will understand that to mean "good" writing in the sense of creative, artistic, flowery "stylism" --a province of real talent --and they will despair of their own abilities for that reason alone. Teachers must find ways to impress upon them that "good" writing means a process in which the writer, unless very gifted, makes repeated attempts to construct sentences and paragraphs that run in a straight and clear line, placing each thought in the context of a larger, overarching design or strategy. All cadets can write this way if they are careful and disciplined in their approach to the prior task of thinking. Of course, this standard means, in turn, that most will have to devote more time to the preparation of written work than the accepted, expected behavioral norm would assign it.
If the teaching challenge involves closing the gap between goals for student development and each cadet's own, personalized reality, how do teachers approach and construct their daily routines, once the gap has been defined? Where can new instructors, in particular, look for guidance about what to do?
The available wisdom varies, naturally, reflecting each instructor's own perspectives and experience. Some believe that good teaching amounts to good leadership, that the skills developed and exercised in leading soldiers can be transferred to the teaching challenge. No doubt this view is in some measure true, and all who are chosen to teach in this Department ought to draw initial confidence from their evident successes in dealing with the tasks of leadership. Yet an important qualification springs to mind: learning cannot be commanded; students can be led toward it, but no authority can direct them to pursue it. There is a point at which the impetus given them by leadership is exhausted, and if they are to go farther it must be on their own, and at their own initiative. Soldiers are a captive audience whose behavior, which in the last analysis can be compelled, is the measure of the leader's success. Whether they are inspired by the leader, or simply fearful of him, may not be particularly relevant to achievement of the mission. It is relevant, however, for the teaching challenge, where it is the development of minds that is the goal. Fear and resentment impede learning. Students are not a captive audience, in the sense that soldiers are, even at USMA where there is a senior-subordinate relationship in the classroom that does not obtain at other schools. The challenge is more complex, then, than might be suggested by analogizing to our experience as leaders. But the larger point here is not that the formula "Teaching-equals-Leadership" is deficient. It is, rather, that even with its deficiencies it serves for many instructors as one reliable bank of ideas about how to approach their tasks here. It may not, however, be descriptive of the length and breadth of the challenge.
Other repositories of ideas are available, too. We all bring to the Department our own experiences and recollections of good teachers and bad, good courses and bad. These are of course helpful, but in many cases they reflect impressions formed recently, at graduate school, or not so recently as an undergraduate. In either case, for obvious reasons, such lessons drawn from our own academic careers may not be wholly applicable to the current USMA environment.
We all have personal standards, idiosyncratic preferences, that reflect the kinds of people we are. These standards inevitably will shape what we do here, and indeed, they should. You will be far less successful if you deny your own essential humanity, or attempt to adopt behaviors and goals incongruent with your own natural talents and limits. "Know yourself" and "be yourself" are useful maxims. At the same time teaching is not an opportunity for self-celebration, nor a process by which you recreate yourself in your students by rigid imposition of highly personal expectations. Your job is to help them be what they can be intellectually –to actualize themselves, to define their own standards, preferences, and boundaries of expectation.
Are there any more specific "rules"? The answer is at once yes and no. There are some guidelines that have been distilled from the experience of many who have gone before. But these do no more than identify what is known to have worked for them. The fund of knowledge about such things will increase with the efforts and reflections of each of us as we come to terms individually with the teaching challenge. At some point all instructors will be able to write their own list of guidelines, based on their own experiences and observations, and all should find occasion now and then to pause, to reflect, and to try to do just that.
A good instructor is enthusiastic. Enthusiasm has both intellectual and physical aspects. We are all enthusiastic about our disciplines in the sense that we are very interested in them and work hard at staying current in them. Our task is to make that enthusiasm evident, to communicate it to our students. We can do so by finding interesting, intellectually stimulating ways to present each day's subject matter. We also must be aware that regardless of how inherently stimulating we believe the lesson is, many cadets will take their daily attitudinal cues mainly from the instructor's physical activity in the classroom. For many students, the teacher's physical energy is the best evidence of enthusiasm about the subject matter –and therefore of the lesson's worth. Students react positively to lively movement, variations in the pacing of a class, day-to-day variety in classroom methods, active, use of instructional aids, and so forth. Enthusiasm does not mean that the instructor must entertain the students each day. On the other hand, monotony and repetition of style and techniques surely will dampen and ultimately deaden the student's curiosity and interest.
A good instructor knows and takes an interest in cadets. Cadets must be treated as individuals, and teachers should make every effort to get to know them all both in and out of the classroom. We should, moreover, take pain to keep those contacts alive even after a semester has been completed and the students have gone on to other things. Learn their names and backgrounds early. Use their first names, particularly in electives, if you are comfortable doing so. Deal with them as "whole" cadets, discussing their outside interests before and after class to show that you are sincerely interested in them. This approach is one of the surest ways of establishing rapport that will pay rich dividends in motivating affection and respect.
A good instructor is accessible. Make yourself available to students in the classroom both before and after class. Be receptive to cadets' viewpoints as they emerge in the lesson's discussion. Encourage cadets to come to your office for talks about the course, their programs here, branch and assignment selection, the Army at large, and so forth. Since many cadets are hesitant to come to instructors' offices on their own, you should take the initiative where possible by bringing them to yours singly, or in small groups, after class, or whenever the occasion arises.
A good instructor is every inch a professional. In your own activities be conscious of your multi-dimensional "role-model" function and seek to excel in all aspects of it --in scholarship, in deportment, and in athletics and physical fitness. Summer training activities with cadets, rigorous personal fitness programs, and scholarly/professional publication are all worthy of instructors' best efforts. Further, the relationship between cadets and instructors in all forums is one of the most useful developmental devices available to us, and we must always be conscious of it. In the classroom an air of informality is a hallmark of successful instruction, but it must not be achieved at the expense of appropriate courtesies and adherence to rules and standards governing cadet behavior. Instructors must require orderly presentations, use of good English, neatness, and military bearing on the part of all cadets. They also must seek to foster cadets' respect for discipline and for the institution's expectations of them.
A good instructor seeks to identify and exercise students' underdeveloped capabilities. Cadets, like all students, are most comfortable. with the courses or tasks for which they have some natural affinity or talent, or some already-acquired skill. The instructor's task is to push them into areas where they are not yet comfortable. The presumption should be that in the classroom students will do what they need to do, not necessarily what each may want or prefer to do. Cadets tend to hope that instructors will "pass-the poop", or lecture on the testable teaching points, a practice that saves them the trouble of careful reading and reflection. While it may sometimes be necessary for a teacher to help his or her students in that way, with particularly difficult material for example, too-frequent resort to that practice will defeat the teacher's developmental purpose and inhibit the student's personal growth.
In written and oral exercises, a good instructor insists that it is the students' duty to communicate, not the instructor's to understand. This maxim expresses an attitudinal orientation that has to be operationalized with some care and discretion, but as a starting point in evaluation of student's work it can pay great dividends. We, of course, look for meaning in the most obscure writings and recitations. But in the final analysis we cannot inculcate the skills and attitudes needed for proper writing and speaking if we allow students to transfer their responsibilities to us, in the guise of intended meanings left unstated or awkwardly and confusingly expressed.
A good instructor is prepared. We all, of course, will know the material for each lesson thoroughly. Beyond substantive expertise, successful instructors have a plan, a concept of how each lesson should go, what it should achieve, and how it fits into the larger design of the course. You should, moreover, attempt to devise ways of making, all that clear to students, so that they can locate current learning in their expanding, frameworks of knowledge and experience.
Teachers at USMA might also find it helpful to review the wisdom encapsulated in Gordon A. Craig's "Golden Rules for Instructors" (from "The Theory and Practice of College Teaching," University, Spring 1960, p. 29):
  • Always assume that your students are interested and enthusiastic. It helps them become so.
  • Be patient.
  • Remember that students like to be appreciated. Operate on the principle that no answer to one of your questions is uninteresting, even if it is irrelevant. If students raise points out of turn come back to them later on.
  • Remember that your students may be meeting rather mature ideas (about politics, social questions, sex, etc.) for the first time. Be prepared to explain these to them, without showing either amusement or irritation at their naiveté and without making a display of your own sophistication.
  • Remember that your students have fathers and mothers. Don't insult the old folks when you are confronted with ideas of theirs with which you do not agree. I
  • In the same way, respect your students' former teachers, even when you must take issue with what are cited as their views.
  • Be honest: Don't be afraid to admit that you don't know or that you have been wrong; but correct the deficiency and don't allow this sort of thing to happen frequently.
  • Don't be afraid to be angry --(students admire honest emotion) --but be sure that lour indignation is justified and that it will serve some purpose.
  • Avoid sarcasm. Don't make individual students the butts of your jokes. Never give a student the impression that you are trying to humiliate him or her before their fellow students.
  • Avoid tired wit, off-color stories, and the use of profanity for emphasis.
  • Avoid over-familiarity. You are not one of the gang.
  • Watch your personal appearance. Your students will do so.
  • Remember your calling.
    From at least two weeks before a course begins until the end of the academic year an instructor is immersed in a continuous cycle of determining lesson objectives, and planning, preparing, conducting, and reviewing instruction. In teaching any course in the Department, instructors should prepare and plan well in advance. It is difficult enough for cadets to integrate the various individual lessons, so instructors must guard against the tendency to fragment the course in their own minds by preparing lesson-by-lesson.
    Planning ahead enables the instructor:
  • to maintain perspective on the course;
  • to assist cadets in integrating material;
  • to provide continuity by highlighting certain themes of the course or of a group of lessons;
  • to plan and organize instruction better by doing so for a group of related lessons;
  • to teach the lessons better by making student assignments and arranging special teaching techniques and aids in advance; as well as to allow time to clip newspaper articles, etc., that you can use;
  • to allow for lead times in such things as print plant support, arrangements for television tapes or movies to be shown during class, etc.
  • In short, planning is essential in order to maintain a sense of direction and to exploit available resources fully-- both of which are necessary for good teaching.
    Determining objectives for each lesson, and organizing the presentation of subject matter, are the basic tasks of planning. For courses taught by several instructors, periodic lesson conferences arranged by the course director will provide opportunities to identify and clarify course and lesson objectives and to discuss approaches to teaching each lesson.
    With respect to planning and preparation, there is an important rule to remember: it is not possible to over-prepare a lesson by concentrating on background reading; however, it is possible to mal-prepare by improper allocation of available time between matters of substance and attention to teaching techniques. You should realize that as a result of your graduate training, you are far better prepared than the cadets. Hence, more of your time can profitably be spent on the mechanics of teaching what you already know rather than in trying to acquire more knowledge of the lesson.
    After deciding on a teaching technique, or combination of techniques, and after organizing the lesson in your mind, you should prepare a lesson plan. Your lesson plan can be a formal, step-by-step outline, or it can simply be a list of the topics or major questions to be addressed, arranged in some logical sequence. New instructors, especially, probably should strive at the outset to be rather formalized about their lesson plan, although all should recognize that the lesson itself, when the plan is executed, may go in wholly unanticipated directions based on student reaction and participation. The plan should set aside time at the start for administrative announcements, for explanation of what the class is intended to achieve, how it relates to what has gone before and what is yet to come, and perhaps for student reaction to the reading assignment. You will find it helpful to retain these plans or outlines in file folders created for each lesson. These also can contain after-action assessments of student reaction, particular difficulties they encountered, techniques that worked well (or didn't work), and extra reading references or materials as applicable.
    You must prepare your own classroom and the teaching aids and materials you will employ. This preparation should be arranged in advance to save time in class (for example, by having the vu-graph connected and situated, and slides readily available), and to make certain that nothing that should be brought to class is overlooked.
    Immediately after teaching the lesson for the first time you should take stock of the experience. Perhaps you will dig up an illustration or statistic on a point that troubled cadets. Perhaps you will modify your organization or approach to the lesson. Perhaps you will change to another teaching technique, or conclude that board work at an appropriate juncture is called for. Whatever your reaction, you should review your performance in the light of the objectives and adjust the plan accordingly. At the same time you should make notes on points learned and on your conclusion as to the optimum method of presentation, so that you can profit by your experience the next time, and so that you can share your observations with the course director and others teaching the course.
    When you give a writ, grade them as quickly as possible in order to get an idea of the students' progress, as well as to hand them back as soon as practicable. Cadets appreciate the timely grading of their papers, and it is important that they know their mistakes. Merely providing an approved solution in the classroom does not do the job.
    Course objectives should be made explicit and should be understood fully by you and your students. The general nature and objectives of our courses can be found in the Redbook and in the USMA catalogue, but the more detailed specification of course goals and intermediate objectives is the responsibility of each course director and, finally, each instructor. Major course objectives should be described fully in the course syllabus given to every cadet.
    It is the Department's policy to strive for close integration and coordination of courses both within the Department and with related courses in other departments. This challenge has been approached successfully in a number of ways:
  • By cross-referencing and by discussion questions in class, as well as in course notebooks.
  • By emphasis in the classroom and readings on basic themes and methods common to many courses.
  • By instructors' thorough familiarization with subjects taught in other departments. Frequent visits to the other department, and visits to this Department by officers of other departments, are encouraged.
  • By frequent voluntary attendance at special guest lectures of other departments.
  • By interchange of instructors between courses within the Department, semester-by-semester, and in individual lessons where subject matter and personal expertise permit.
  • By visits of new instructors to lesson conferences and classes of other Department courses.
    Periodically during the term, core course directors will hold lesson conferences. These lesson conferences are designed to improve teaching by capitalizing upon the combined experience of the instructor group there assembled. They are not designed to freeze teaching into a common mold, nor to eliminate instructor initiative in any respect. Lesson conferences do not simply re-hash textual material, but concentrate on the exchange of ideas concerning subject matter references, techniques, and approaches for teaching the lesson. Besides assisting in preparation, lesson conferences serve to coordinate the efforts of the instructor group, integrate a group of lessons, and transmit experience from veterans to new instructors.
    The lesson conference is most successful when all concerned come properly prepared to participate. This preparation requires study and reflection upon the text assignment, writs, and notebook or the lessons to be discussed at the conference. The discussion of matters of substance, such as recent developments in theory or current problems which illustrate theory, is not precluded; but all such discussion is set in the context of developing and improving teaching techniques and setting lessons in perspective.
    Instructor notes may be prepared for each lesson as a basis for discussion at the lesson conference. The course director may assign particular lessons to individual instructors for this purpose. These notes normally will list the key teaching points in the lesson to provide a common base line of coverage from which you can depart as your judgment warrants, or as particular classroom discussions dictate. The notes typically list lesson objectives and teaching techniques especially applicable to particular lessons, provide supplemental reading references, and relate previous and future course work to the lesson.
    All instructors must read the Dean's guidance on homework assignments, in DPOM 2-3, Classroom and Related Departmental Procedures. That document provides rules governing cadet work done outside the classroom, addressing problems of collaboration, etc. Normally a syllabus of required readings for each lesson is provided to each cadet at the beginning of the semester. Major course requirements such as WPRs, term paper due dates, and case studies are identified well in advance to permit appropriate planning. Cadets are expected to do the assigned reading, and instructors should conduct the lesson on the assumption that they have done so. All instructors hope, naturally, to get cadets to read more. Much can be accomplished in that direction through optional additional readings, research papers, and special study projects or presentations geared to energize and guide individual initiative and effort. Another option is the lengthier required reading, which raises the problem of making time available for the cadets to do it. A common approach substitutes occasional reading periods for class attendance, with discussion periods immediately following. Or a single-lesson reading period might be followed by a regular lesson devoted to another aspect of a larger topic. These methods may be used to emphasize depth of coverage, or to expand breadth, but in either case their advantage lies in giving cadets adequate background to take full advantage of our small-section, seminar approach to classroom meetings.
    Preparing the classroom for each lesson is the instructor's responsibility, and you should ensure that the physical setting for the class is satisfactory, and that any needed aids are available and in working order. At the end of class, you should restore the room to its initial state. You should clean the blackboards for the next occupant --or coordinate in advance if you need to retain blackboard space from lesson to lesson or section to section.
    It is Department policy to post a brief outline of the main points of the lesson on the section room blackboard each day. Not the least utility of such an outline is to provide you with notes which cue you through a short lecture or discussion without tying you to a podium or necessitating the juggling of note cards, papers, or books. The board outline also serves as a convenient reference for cadets, to suggest or remind them of questions, and to focus their attention on important points in the subject matter. It is also Department policy that each instructor have in the classroom a bulletin board, for display of current events material, humorous items, administrative announcements, and so forth.
    At the beginning of class you must take the attendance report from the Section Marcher. At the end, you must be sure to finish on time, so that the cadets can move on to their next meetings. Instructors should be prepared, additionally, to entertain visitors in their section room. If you have an additional desk in the room you can have cadets leave that space open near the door for visitors. There is no need to have an additional text for the visitor, but you should have a “visitor’s folder” that includes a copy of the syllabus, you biography, and other information about the course. In some cases you will know beforehand about such visits, and the procedure and protocol for introducing visitors to the classroom can be worked out in advance. In other cases you will not --visits from the Dean, the Commandant, or the Superintendent, for instance, may well be unannounced. When such visits occur, as a general rule it is preferable not to interrupt the flow of the lesson. A brief pause, if it seems necessary, to invite the visitor to come in and sit down is sufficient. To ease the transition into the classroom you might also invite participation in your discussion. In most cases neither invitation will be necessary, and the class will flow without interruption as the visitor joins your class.
    The ideas presented in this chapter, as noted at the outset, are intended only as general guidance. Each of us must make these concepts work for ourselves; we all must deal with the challenges as we see them. In the end, we will all see those challenges a little bit differently. As Gordon Craig observed after he had written down his "golden rules" for instructors:
    To these might be added something said to me when I was a graduate student: "You'll never get anywhere as a teacher unless you really like students." But, then, that goes almost without saying.