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Students aren't the only ones who should keep a journal

There are many practical applications and benefits of keeping a journal - any kind, like a journal of awful personal experiences, or a journal of your pet's crazy antics. In the classroom, for example, a reticent student may write something to the teacher hoping for the private audience not readily available in a crowded room.

When I first started teaching, I didn't think much about keeping a record of what happened in each of my classes on a daily basis. I would simply conclude my lecture, talk with students after class, and then proceed with other teaching duties like grading papers or prepping for the next lecture.

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But as I became more experienced, I began to try to remember what had happened in the previous class.

Were students bored with the lecture? What part of the discussion got them really excited? Had most of my students bothered to read and understand the chapter? To make the most of my classes, I needed accurate answers to fundamental questions like these.

I started keeping a classroom journal. After each class period, after the last lingering student had vacated my office, I allotted at least 15 minutes to write down what had just happened in my class. I made detailed notes about the content of the lecture, things like whether I covered all I intended to, or whether I discovered something I needed to research further.

Not only that, I noted my mood. For example, if I felt anxious because I hadn't felt fully prepared for class, that fact was important enough to jot down, since attitude and mood may affect my delivery of the material and ultimately the interest level of the students. Or if, the night before, I read something exciting about the material and presented it enthusiastically to the students, then, of course, I wrote that.

My best students got mentioned in the journal, as well as the not-so-good ones who needed extra help and guidance in their 15-week journey through my psychology courses. Every once in a while I'd encounter a loquacious student in my class who liked to dominate the discussion with frequent outbursts of irrelevant questions. I noted this person, also, and kept close track of his or her behavior during the semester.

I noted in my journal whether most of the students enrolled in the course were actually in attendance that day, or whether there were a lot of absences. I noted when class began (a few minutes late?). And when it ended (a few minutes early?).

I've been teaching college students for five years, and I have kept my instructor's journal for the past two. It has grown gradually to include several very funny classroom anecdotes, and it is flavored with occasional riffs on living the academic life. It includes the formal observations of colleagues who have visited the class for a few minutes or an hour. I use it as a tool for continuing development of my teaching skills.

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Each semester, as I try to become the best college professor I can, I rely on my journal. With its colorful documentation of many past successes and failures in the classroom, it is a guide for my personal development and growth as a teacher in the technological, multicultural classroom of the 21st century.

The journal has become quite a document now, filled with honest reflection and the peaks and valleys of a teacher's early career.

* Evangeline Wheeler is an assistant professor of psychology at Towson University in Towson, Md.