The Art of Teaching

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Becoming an effective teacher can be quite painful and exhausting, taking years of trial and error. In The Art of Teaching, writer and critic Jay Parini looks back over his own decades of trials, errors, and triumphs, in an intimate memoir that brims with humor, encouragement, and hard-won wisdom about the teacher's craft.
Here is a godsend for instructors of all levels, offering valuable insight into the many challenges that educators face, from establishing a persona in the classroom, to fostering relationships with students, to balancing teaching load with academic writing and research. Insight abounds. Parini shows, for instance, that there is nothing natural about teaching. The classroom is a form of theater, and the teacher must play various roles. A good teacher may look natural, but that's the product of endless practice. The book also considers such topics as the manner of dress that teachers adopt (and what this says about them as teachers), the delicate question of politics in the classroom, the untapped value of emeritus professors, and the vital importance of a settled, disciplined life for a teacher and a writer. Parini grounds all of this in personal stories of his own career in the academy, tracing his path from unfocused student—a self-confessed "tough nut to crack"—to passionate writer, scholar, and teacher, one who frankly admits making many mistakes over the years.
Every year, thousands of newly minted college teachers embark on their careers, most with scant training in their chosen profession. The Art of Teaching is a perfect book for these young educators as well as anyone who wants to learn more about this difficult but rewarding profession.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This warm guide should inform, entertain, and inspire young teachers as they seek to 'waken a student to his or her potential.'"—Publishers Weekly

"A charming reflection on 30 years devoted to learning.... Parini offers a number of tips in a manner that is decidedly laid back, friendly and casual—in much the same way, one surmises, that he teaches his own classes."—Los Angeles Times Book Review

"To read one of these short essays is like taking a walk with a genial, generous and intelligent teacher who speaks fluently and kindly. The book probably ought to be considered as a sequence of such walks, designed to bring pleasure and some profit, too, to all, but particularly to young teachers entering the field."—Washington Post Book World

"What he writes about teaching will be of keen interest to all educators, especially young ones just finding their way in the profession.... Parini has thought deeply about all aspects of teaching, and readers will appreciate his insights on such sundry topics as assessment (he believes teaching to the test is 'anti-educational'); dress (it reflects one's teaching style); and the hiring of new colleagues (people you have to be prepared to work with for the next 20 years). Parini's book may not change the way you teach, but it may make you think more deeply about education than you ever have before."—Education Week

"[A] combination memoir and advice book, the tale of a shy, working-class kid from Scranton, Pa., who gradually discovered that he loved to read and write, and that he was happiest when he could pass along that love to young students.... When he zeroes in on the passions that animate good teachers, and the nuts and bolts of running a lecture course or a seminar, the book takes wing."—William Grimes, The New York Times

"Parini, an English professor at Middlebury College, shares his quiet wisdom on guiding students toward the pleasures of critical thinking. Equal parts memoir, essay, and practical advice, Parini's handbook for the writer who teaches is a gentle, elegant tribute to those who turn the life of the mind into a performance art."—Utne Reader

"Practical and philosophical, ardent and lucid, Parini covers the nitty-gritty of teaching, explains how writing is nurtured by teaching and vice versa, and discusses why teaching students to think critically not only about books but also about the world around them is so very crucial."—Booklist

"One pleasing aspect of The Art of Teaching is Parini's candor about professorial anxiety, similar to the stage fright that afflicts some longtime actors."—Philadelphia Inquirer

"Writes with economy, clarity and passion. He argues that part of a professor's work is to challenge students' assumptions. He has done the same for readers with this good book."—The Charlotte Observer

"An eloquent and humane vision of our most vital human resource—teaching and its role in our civilization. Written with a poet's elegance, The Art of Teaching is part memoir and part personal and practical reflection on what it means to be in the classroom with students. A seasoned teacher and writer, Parini gives us a remembrance of great teachers who changed his life and of how writing and scholarship come together to make teaching better and richer. This book is also a reflection on the dynamic relationship between teachers and students, academic colleagues old and young and the important community they all create when they come together on a college campus. In an age when the pursuit of money and the God of materialism threatens to swallow America whole, Parini reminds us that the intellectual and human values that happen in the classroom are our most important preparation for life." —Peter Balakian, author of Black Dog of Fate

"Jay Parini, novelist, poet, biographer, and editor, has now given us an extremely readable and useful book about teaching, drawing upon his decades in the classroom on both sides of the desk. Aptly titled, The Art of Teaching is itself artful in its well-measured, outspoken, and entertaining look at a subject not enough explored and therefore the more welcome." —-William Pritchard, Professor of English at Amherst College, and author of Shelf Life: Literary Essays and Reviews

"In discussing his own lecturing, Isaiah Berlin said he was 'fumbling for the light switch in a very large but very dark room.' Parini switches on lights, and if he does not make all the darkness visible, he illuminates much of the mystery of teaching and shows us all how to do better. Parini is a fine writer and a superb teacher. He blends inspiration with practical advice—describing, for example, the classroom as theater. Jettison all those heavy volumes on methodology and read this small book. Read with a pencil and mull, and you will become a better teacher, and maybe a better person. What a friend teachers have in Parini!" —Sam Pickering, author of Waltzing the Magpies and The Best of Pickering

Eric Edmundson
To read one of these short essays is like taking a walk with a genial, generous and intelligent teacher who speaks fluently and kindly. The book probably ought to be considered as a sequence of such walks, designed to bring pleasure and some profit, too, to all, but particularly to young teachers entering the field. What holds the book together is Parini's presence. And it can be quite an appealing one -- he comes off, at least initially, as a soft-spoken, kindly guy who's a pleasure to have around.
— The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195169690
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/13/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 1,357,686
  • Product dimensions: 7.10 (w) x 5.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jay Parini is Axinn Professor of English at Middlebury College. He has written five books of poetry, six novels, and three biographies, and was editor of The Columbia History of American Poetry and The Norton Book of American Autobiography. His writings have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Harper's, TLS, and Chronicle of Higher Education. He lives in Weybridge, Vermont.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted November 24, 2008

    Real World Advice on the World of Teaching

    This book is part memoir and part reflection on a life centered around teaching. Parini begins with his own journey from graduate student writer to his current tenured position as professor and author. He recalls great teachers that he had throughout his life and why their styles made an impression on him. He also explains the rigors of becoming tenured, and the mistakes he made in trying to do so. He offers advice on what an inexperienced teacher can expect and how to avoid pitfalls and even offers suggestions on appropriate teaching attire.<BR/><BR/>Parini spends a fair amount of the book discussing ¿finding your voice¿ in teaching. I found it interesting that he believes that you should not necessarily aim for your ¿authentic self¿ that we are encouraged to develop as writers. He believes that when teaching, you are performing, and to some extent you must learn to entertain. At times this may require you to act and not be yourself. He refers to ¿putting on a mask¿ and delivering a performance each time you lecture. On page 59 he explains:<BR/>¿The notion of the ¿true¿ self is romantic, and utterly false. There is no such thing¿.A beginning teacher must confront this reality from the outset, dispensing with the idea that there is some deep and true self that has an independent existence, that can be fetched from the heart¿s drawer, displayed easily, without fear, with confidence in its features.¿<BR/><BR/>Parini dispenses great advice throughout the book, mostly from his own observations. One example he gives refers to a professor he had who was not particularly impressive in the classroom. He would read from densely prepared notes and would often cough or clear his throat during lectures. Despite the dry performance, this professor was wildly popular due to his knowledge and ideas. Parini explains, ¿The main lesson I learned from this important teacher was that content matters more than anything else. You cannot fake the substance of a course, and must always teach from the center of your material, trusting the material to carry the class forward, to stimulate the students.¿<BR/><BR/>THE ONE main strength of book: One chapter of the book is entitled ¿Nitty Gritty,¿ where Parini gets into the details of preparation, lecturing, and other teaching specifics. Here he has a ¿letter to a young teacher¿ where he guides the novice teacher through handling a variety of challenges, including attendance problems, gaining respect, preparation and pacing of a class.

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