“I used to do a great deal of guerilla teaching,” says Gina Foster, the director of the Teaching and Learning Commons at Lehman College in New York.
Foster would arrive the day a class would begin, uncertain of what to expect from her students and the course she was teaching. Despite the challenges, these experiences taught Foster how to manage different situations and diverse groups of students.
“Guerilla teaching,” as Foster calls it, is commonplace for today’s contingent faculty workforce. Now in her current role as the director of the Teaching and Learning Commons at Lehman College, Foster tries to help other faculty members facing similar challenges more effectively connect to their students.
Lehman College, part of the City University of New York, is a liberal arts college located in the Bronx. It has a student population of about 12,000. The key at Lehman and many colleges like it is to identify and use resources—and in some cases develop them—in a resource-scarce environment that will promote academic skills for life for a workforce that increasingly relies on critical thinking and problem solving.
Foster credits her experiences outside of teaching workshops and seminars with helping her more readily experiment with and adopt different kinds of approaches to learning. She has also worked as a poet, theorist, teacher, facilitator, filmmaker, and nonprofit administrator. Her diverse experiences have helped her understand that undergraduates and faculty alike need to expose themselves to multiple skills and modes of learning in today’s knowledge economy. Her experiences outside of academia have also helped foster a community of faculty that more effectively supports peer and student learning.
Over the past five years, Foster has provided direct faculty development and mentoring to strengthen instruction for more than half of Lehman’s full-time faculty and a portion of its part-time faculty. What have these five years helping faculty taught her?
“It’s so important for faculty to respect each other. There are similarities across disciplines that I try to help faculty see by bringing them together through communities of teaching.”
Foster says that the conversations with faculty across disciplines that she’s observed and facilitated are fascinating. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach to teaching, but there are things we can learn from each other in places we might not expect. We need faculty development to ward against settling into one mode of teaching. We need to create communities of faculty to challenge ourselves in our own subjects and disciplines.”