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Professing: A Personal View

Teaching resources developed by SC4 Professor Cliff Johnson

About this project

What is this all about?

The inspiration for this project derived from these lines from Kenneth Bain’s book What the Best College Teachers Do, where he writes

It has occurred to me that teaching is one of those human endeavors that seldom benefits from its past.  Great teachers emerge, they touch the lives of their students, and perhaps only through some of those students do they have any influence on the broad art of teaching.  For the most part, their insights die with them, and subsequent generations must discover anew the wisdom that drove their practices.  At best, some small fragment of their talent endures, broken pieces on which later generations perch without realizing the full measure of the ancient wealth beneath them. (3)

While I do not pretend to be one of the “great teachers” Bain refers to above, teaching college, or “professing,” has been my life’s work.  I first stood before a class of college students as a twenty-two year old grading assistant in 1983, and for most of the years since that day my work has been centered around teaching and learning in college classrooms.  Finding myself now in the final decade of my teaching career, my objective is to preserve and make available what Bain calls the “library of teaching talents and practices” that I’ve accumulated over more than 30 years of college teaching.  The purpose of this site is to share with other faculty members as much as I reasonably can about what I’ve learned about the art and craft of professing.

Who is this for?

The primary audience I had in mind while developing this site is new faculty, who I have assumed would be most likely to take an interest in what an experienced professor thinks are the essentials of the profession.  However, it is my belief and my hope that even veteran professors will find it worth their while to explore this site.  While some specifics covered here may seem elementary or self-evident to those with a lot of teaching under their belts (see Disclaimers), I know from the available research that some sections of this site (e.g. the section on audio recorded essay comments) certainly cover topics unexplored by most professors.

What will you find on this site? 

As you explore this site, you will find a variety of different media—text articles, downloadable documents, videos, podcasts, slideshows, links, etc.—covering the ins and outs of professing; from grand abstractions like the philosophy of teaching all the way down to the nitty gritty of individual assignments.  Videos of live class sessions, interviews with students and professors, TED-style lectures, an entire semester’s worth of class materials… the site contains a wide range of contents of potential interest to faculty.  

The site has been designed for non-linear, open-ended exploration.  Some may choose merely to browse the surfaces of some sections while others may opt for a deep dive into the fine-grained details.  

About Cliff Johnson

Teaching background. 

I have taught here at SC4 since 1996 (full-time since 2000).  Before settling down at SC4, however, I taught at a half-dozen different institutions across the country and overseas.

Other work. 

A significant professional experience outside my years as a TA and professor was my time (1985-86) working as an editor at Pierian Press in Ann Arbor.  My editorial experience there, as well as work on a number of literary publications, has strongly influenced my work as a teacher of writing.

Education

My first college degree was my A.A. (1981) from St. Clair County Community College (SC4).  My further education was at University of Michigan (B.A. 1983 & M.A. 1984), Western Michigan University (M.F.A. 1988), and University of California-Irvine (PhD candidacy 1995).

Publications

My poetry, fiction and nonfiction writings have been published in a variety of different academic books and journals. 

Overview

Other than the above, the biographical element most relevant to my teaching and this project is that I have strong local roots (I’m a “native son” of the area) combined with a more cosmopolitan set of experiences based in my many years of work, travel, and study across America and abroad. This combination of perspectives has informed my work over the last two decades.  

Disclaimers

What goes without saying. 

One of the challenges I faced in putting together the contents of this site was trying to determine what specific content my audience would find useful or interesting as opposed to what they might see as self-evident, or even as an insult to their intelligence.  I soon realized that this was a case of “one man's bread is another man's poision,” so I made the decision early on to include more or less anything, large or small, that I thought made a significant difference in professing.  It seemed better to risk stating the obvious than to leave out matters that might be useful to at least some of my audience.  I make a large number of suggestions or recommendations on this site, but this is all based on the “Personal View” of this site's subtitle (echoing the work of Jacob Bronowski and James Burke alluded to elsewhere on this site). I do not claim that my own practices will work for every professor.  On the contrary, they are deeply informed by the peculiarities of my own background as a student, as a teacher, and as a human being.  I, therefore, ask my readers to consider the contents of this site in the spirit of “ideas worth sharing,” and not at all as some sort of presumptive prescription of “best practices.”

What you won’t find on this site. 

At the time of this writing, it is not my plan to include much, if anything, on the subject of committee work or other college service, professional development, community service, or other elements of our work that are not closely aligned with the specific processes of teaching and learning.  This is not to imply that any or all of these matters are unimportant or uninteresting, but they lie outside the scope of what I intend to present here.

This site is under construction.

This site will first go “live” in mid-December 2017, but from the beginning the site was intended to grow and evolve over time. You can expect, then, that new content will gradually be added and some of the original content may be revised. Due to time and technological constraints, the quality of some of the video and audio on this site is less than ideal at the time of this writing, but these shortcomings will be rectified in the months to come.