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Inside vs. Outside Views of Comedy and Teaching

February 25, 2014

I read Tina Fey’s book Bossy Pants over the winter break and at one point she lists her favorite lines from each of the writers on 30 Rock. What struck me was that while I find 30 Rock to be extremely funny, none of the lines she highlighted stand out to me as particularly funny. I’ve noticed this when I listen to interviews or podcasts with comedians as well. Very often, the things a professional comedian finds very funny are not the same things I find very funny. Professional comedians seem to find it extremely funny and wonderful when someone defies expectations or plays with timing and delivery in an unexpected way. From my perspective, I often don’t notice or am not automatically delighted by such things.

This brings me to teaching and PER. It occurs to me that if two people, one a seasoned teacher and one not, or one a PER person and one not, both observe the same class with the same instructor, they will notice and delight in different instructional moves. If after the class both observers are asked what the instructor did that they thought was particularly good, they are likely to give different answers.

This seems obvious as I write this, but it occurred to me on the drive to work today that I don’t always keep this in mind during instructor observations. There’s a tendency to see an observation as one sided – the observer takes notes and then tells you what they think you did well and where you could improve. My last observation went well and I received high marks, but I should go into my next observation debriefing with my own notes about what I think I did well and where I think I struggled. This way I can open up the discussion and talk about *why* each of us thinks certain instructional moves were or were not successful and how they do or do not align with my instructional goals. This also gives me more appreciation for the importance of observational protocols like the RTOP or UTOP and for the importance of the follow-up discussion after the observation.

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