The Joy of Teaching #1: Chemistry Swap

Colin Fredericks blogged as a guest a few weeks ago and is again sharing his thoughts in another series I’m hoping to get rolling: The Joy of Teaching.  Thanks Colin!


A few weeks ago I swapped courses with another teacher. I gave him a section of Chemistry; he gave me Honors Chem, a course I was a little intimidated to teach. (In fact, when I was hired, I said “I can teach Chemistry, but probably not Honors.”) I like to teach in areas where I have a substantial depth and breadth of knowledge, and I’m a physicist by training, not a chemist. I was worried about how to handle the course – keep it moving, challenge the students with the material, and generally deliver on the promise inherent in an Honors course.


When the course started, it was clear I was facing an entirely different challenge than the one I’d anticipated. There are currently just three students in it. There might be as many as five by the end of the year. As I taught on that first day, thoughts of “handling” the course disappeared. I now had a small group where personal attention was a guarantee and class time could be spent far more efficiently. I saw myself more clearly, less as a teacher and more as the experienced leader of a dedicated study group. With that came the realization that I no longer needed to know all the answers. Instead, I can afford to say, “That’s an excellent question. Let’s see how we can figure out the answer.”


That, to me, is the core of science. “I don’t know, but I bet we can figure out the answer.” And if I’m a good teacher, I’ll be taking that to my larger classes as well.