One of the key elements of my pedagogical practice—and how I’ve gotten so darn good at my job—is my teaching journal. Keeping a teaching journal gives you a space to generate teaching ideas, work out pedagogical problems, reflect on your successes and struggles in the classroom, and put your past insights to work in planning future courses.
I think of my own teaching journal as a place to record all of the course marginalia that doesn’t make its way into my formal teaching documents (such as assignment sheets). I typically write in my journal as soon as possible after each class session, keeping what happened during that class fresh in my mind. I compose a short summary of the class, and then reflect on and evaluate how my lesson went. Of course, this isn’t the only time—or the only material—that I write in my teaching journal. I keep it with me all the time so that at the spur of the moment I can jot down ideas. I also use my journal during class sessions–for example, to write down smart things my students say.
The teaching journal is an invaluable resource when creating job market documents such as a teaching philosophy statement or a teaching portfolio, and when going on job interviews that require you to discuss your pedagogy. Having a consistent and detailed record of your insights and particular pedagogical successes will make the task of telling stories about your teaching substantially easier, and will make those stories more persuasive. Keeping up with a teaching journal will continue to help you through your academic career as you move toward tenure review, where detailed and polished teaching materials are key.
While you may end up with plenty of material to use in the above mentioned formal, public writing, keep in mind that the teaching journal itself should be a private document. Keeping your journal private allows you the space to fret, whine, rant, and about all the amazing and difficult things being a teacher allows. A private journal is also important should you write about any concerns you have with particular students. These entries need never see the light of day in their raw form, and keeping them that way protects you and your students.
Having said that, there’s no right way to keep a teaching journal. My own teaching journal is analog and not fancy in any way. It’s a simple spiral-bound notebook, filled with my messy handwriting, and resembles a ragged scrapbook with articles, clippings, and Post-It notes stapled and pasted in. Of course, those who like to compose on their computers can choose from a wealth of great journaling and note-taking applications. A few recommendations:
- Evernote: This cross-platform information-capturing app can be synced across mobile devices, tablets, and computers alike. One advantage of Evernote is its ability to capture almost any kind of media via webcam, which is good for those who tend to turn their journals into scrapbooks.
- OhLife: A unique browser-based journaling tool that allows you to write your journal entries via email. OhLife can be configured to remind you to journal at any time you choose, and each reminder email contains a random journal entry from the past.
- Day One (Mac iOS & OSX): Day One is a simple and beautifully designed journal app that can be configured to remind you (at intervals you specify) throughout the day to write. Its composing window sits conveniently in the Mac menu bar for easy access when you have an idea. Your journal data can also be synced across all your Mac devices via Dropbox.
I know that I’ve gotten really good at my job by constantly reflecting on and writing about it, trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t, etc. My teaching journal is key to my success with this. Consistent practice and honest reflection can create a rewarding and useful document that will help you for the rest of your teaching career.
[Image by Flickr user Julie Gibbons and used under Creative Commons License]
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