Teaching at CUNY has been a transformative and invigorating experience for thousands of Graduate Center (GC) students. Our goal at the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) is to help current and future GC students succeed in this work.
Teaching is challenging for even the most seasoned, committed instructors. Every class section presents a new mix of personalities, levels of preparedness, and needs. Every semester renews the challenge of translating our scholarship for undergraduates and making our classes accessible to all of our students. And every year evolving political and social realities impact the lives of both faculty and students, particularly those from the historically underrepresented communities that make up the majority of the undergraduate population at CUNY. Since March 2020, COVID-19 has pushed us to find ways to be flexible, stable, and effective in a suddenly fully remote teaching context, and has made caring for ourselves and for our students even more urgent. In 2021-2022, CUNY’s classrooms will be transitioning back to more in-person instruction in a world that will remain in the grips of the virus, while we mourn and begin to heal.
CUNY’s undergraduates make our classrooms unique and vibrant spaces, and their time, labor, and attention should be met by their instructors with a profound sense of duty and responsibility. Teaching at CUNY can enrich and propel both our scholarship and our career prospects, while giving us powerful ways to have a lasting impact on the people of New York City. We also learn a lot from our teaching.
To new instructors: You are not alone in meeting this challenge. The TLC is always available to support you, and there are also dozens of other spaces throughout CUNY that offer opportunities for the exploration of pedagogy (which will be noted throughout this handbook). CUNY’s campuses have generous and available teaching centers, vibrant writing centers, resourceful and helpful librarians, engaged department-based networks, and committed faculty and staff who share the TLC’s belief that pedagogy is best conceived of as a collaborative pursuit.
In the pages that follow, we offer practical guidance for Graduate Center students from all disciplines who are just beginning to conceive of themselves as college teachers. We will walk you through course and syllabus preparation, assignment design and assessment, and offer suggestions for navigating CUNY. We will also prompt readers to consider common issues new teachers face, and to explore how to deal proactively with challenges that may arise.
This handbook is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather to provide a snapshot of some of our thinking and work at TLC and a distillation of the conversations we’ve had over time. It is designed to evolve in dialogue with the CUNY community, and the TLC has continued to update and refine the handbook, now in its fourth edition. Our revisions enact the responsibility we feel as educators to continuously reflect upon, debate, and test our ideas. Our revisions also reflect pivotal events in the world and are an effort to share the insights we gain as we adapt to changing circumstances. In particular, 2020’s abrupt transition to remote teaching during COVID, the ongoing uprising against racist state violence, and the chaotic and traumatic path of the pandemic have intensified existing questions of power and authority in educational institutions. These experiences have compelled us to consider more deeply the role of the college instructor as a possible enabler but also a potential dismantler of institutional harm.
A reflective, critical, collaborative pedagogy oriented toward care and flexibility is crucial. In this edition, we have made a significant revision of Section I, where we discuss CUNY as an institution whose history is deeply ingrained in the life of New York City, and also present the principles that guide our pedagogy. Section II features significantly expanded chapters on Educational Technology and Grading and Evaluating Student Work, respectively. In Section III we’ve added new ideas for activities and assignments that are ready to use and adapt to different settings.
This edition of the Handbook is the first “born digital” version, and as a result we’ve enhanced the navigability of the text by including more supplemental resources and more linking—which enables readers to jump to different points in the handbook, to toggle back and forth between sections, and also to visit relevant external sites. We have also included images, figures, and charts for the first time.
Feedback on this text is welcome, via Manifold’s annotation function, and will inform our revisions in the next edition of this text. Please share your thoughts by first creating a Manifold account, and then leaving comments wherever you feel.
The Staff of the Graduate Center Teaching and Learning Center