Here are some of the works that I strongly recommend for teachers of English literature and composition, with brief descriptions from the publishers after each. I’ve been deeply influenced in different ways by each of these books, especially the one by Robert Boice, and I’ve found that they all repay multiple readings and sporadic rereadings over the years.
Boice, Robert. Advice for New Faculty Members: Nihil Nimus (Pearson, 2000).
Advice for New Faculty Members: Nihil Nimus is a unique and essential guide to the start of a successful academic career. As its title suggests (nothing in excess), it advocates moderation in ways of working, based on the single-most reliable difference between new faculty who thrive and those who struggle. By following its practical, easy-to-use rules, novice faculty can learn to teach with the highest levels of student approval, involvement, and comprehension, with only modest preparation times and a greater reliance on spontaneity and student participation. Similarly, new faculty can use its rule-based practices to write with ease, increasing productivity, creativity, and publishability through brief, daily sessions of focused and relaxed work. And they can socialize more successfully by learning about often-misunderstood aspects of academic culture, including mentoring. Each rule in Advice for New Faculty Members has been tested on hundreds of new faculty and proven effective over the long run — even in attaining permanent appointment. It is the first guidebook to move beyond anecdotes and surmises for its directives, based on the author’s extensive experience and solid research in the areas of staff and faculty development. For new teachers.
Lang, James. Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning (Jossey-Bass, 2016)
Research into how we learn has opened the door for utilizing cognitive theory to facilitate better student learning. But that’s easier said than done. Many books about cognitive theory introduce radical but impractical theories, failing to make the connection to the classroom. In Small Teaching, James Lang presents a strategy for improving student learning with a series of modest but powerful changes that make a big difference—many of which can be put into practice in a single class period. These strategies are designed to bridge the chasm between primary research and the classroom environment in a way that can be implemented by any faculty in any discipline, and even integrated into pre-existing teaching techniques.
Showalter, Elaine. Teaching Literature (Blackwell, 2003).
(from Publisher’s Weekly:) Showalter’s distillation of her half-century of teaching (along with the experience of scores of other teachers) in this jargon-free blend of manual and memoir will appeal to readers with a general interest in education as well as to professionals. Provocative, evocative, spirited in tone and lucid in structure, the volume offers everything readers might want to know about teaching undergraduates. Showalter, an English professor at Princeton University, opens with practical matters (e.g., the anxieties that can plague teachers, lack of training, isolation, performance, evaluation) and then moves to the theoretical, exploring subject-centered, teacher-centered and student-centered teaching theories. Throughout, she addresses nitty-gritty matters, from preparing syllabi and lectures and leading discussions to grading and “housekeeping.” On teaching literature classes (including poetry, drama, fiction and theory), Showalter offers a cornucopia of approaches, peppered with brief reflections from teachers about actual practice. She addresses the teaching of teachers, the issues raised in “dangerous subjects” (freshly, not the usual race and gender, but suicide and explicit sexual language) and “teaching literature in dark times.” Differences and disagreements flourish, and the chorus of voices Showalter shares with readers, along with her own expertise and knowledge, makes this book particularly appealing as well as useful.
Vendler, Helen. Poems, Poets, Poetry: An Introduction and Anthology, with Authors Notes for Teaching (Bedford, 2002).
Many students today are puzzled by the meaning and purpose of poetry. Poems, Poets, Poetry demystifies the form and introduces students to its artistry and pleasures, using methods that Helen Vendler has successfully used herself over her long, celebrated career. Guided by Vendler’s erudite yet down-to-earth approach, students at all levels can benefit from her authoritative instruction. Her blend of new and canonical poets includes the broadest selection of new and multi-racial poets offered by any introductory text. Comprehensive and astute, this text engages students in effective ways of reading — and taking delight in — poetry.