I’m definitely a pacer while I lecture, and I don’t even realize I’m doing it. But I find that when I’m writing I pace, too. But moving seems to go hand in hand with thinking for me. Pacing can be distracting, it takes the audiences attention away from the board, screen, or what-have-you and makes you focus on the speaker. This can be really useful, if you want the audience to pay attention to you. If you want the audience to pay attention to the screen, board or whatever, stop pacing, stand still, and gesture. So, yea, pacing without a purpose can be annoying. I like blackboard teaching better than powerpoint/beamer/whatever teaching in part for this reason. It’s inherently more dynamic and interactive, and the pacing is built in! At risk of being a killjoy, I suspect you’re parsing the student question too fun (though I admit it’s fun to do).
I suspect the student is just saying that your pacing was distracting. I sympathize. I pace too: when I watch myself on a video, it really stands out, but if I hadn’t seen myself on video, I never would have realized. As a student, I prefer it when my prof paces, moves, otherwise does something besides stand behind the lectern staring straight ahead and droning on like he or she would teach the exact same way if the classroom was empty. It usually means there is some sort of emotion attached to what she or he is doing, and I feel a little (lot) more engaged in the class. Really, “pacing without purpose while teaching” is a problem? Well, if they didn’t have anything else to complain about, I guess that’s good. I don’t know if there’s any research to back this up, but I was taught that it’s good to pace around a bit while teaching in order to help keep the students focused.
I’ve also heard that (at least for some) it makes the person giving the lecture speak with more energy, thus making us (hopefully) more intrinsically engaging for students. My limited experience is that pacing does seem to help, though it can look and feel pretty awkward when you’re first developing the habit. Perhaps the reason the student noticed it was just because it was a new professor who hadn’t yet developed a natural pacing style? When pacing, make sure you are facing the audience if you speak. Pacing can be coordinated with your voice to diminish or enhance emphasis. If they see me stop, they know I’m about to say something very important. Don’t move while someone is asking a question. Moving helps the students realize that they’re interacting with a real person, and the lecture doesn’t feel like a screen. That’s my two cents. I actually never thought about or noticed it before.
I do have a professor who gallops around the room, occasionally leaping over things, and (occasionally) tripping. THAT is distracting. But I guess there is an extreme to everything. If there isn’t any dynamic motion at the front of the room, I’m much more likely to fall asleep. I don’t pace, and instead try to anchor myself to the podium. Unless the student has a learning disability they can deal. As a student, I preferred professors who moved around (pacing or not) to one attached to the podium/lectern. As a professor, I move about the room so I can cover the entire room and make eye contact with all the students, especially in a large room. Prior to being tenured, one of my peer reviewers said my hair was distracting to the learning environment. I get that personal mannerisms might not work for all individuals, but pacing? C’mon. Those have nothing to do with the ability to teach!
I totally looked at the student comment about pacing and thought “there goes another student looking for something to complain about because they don’t like the teacher or their grade”. I think I must just be deep in the anxiety of teaching evaluations season. I think there is a difference between moving around and pacing. I will move around to be on a different side of the class, keep them on their toes, remove myself from the center of discussion, etc. But pacing back and forth rather quickly – that’s distracting, I agree. I prefer professors to stay in the same place, so I can get a better recording. But it wouldn’t have occurred to me to complain if the prof wasn’t cooperating – I think it’s your prerogative to find the style you’re comfortable with! Having said that, if you have anyone in the class who’s hard of hearing and relies on speech reading to some extent, it would be good to stay in one spot facing the same direction. Was I the only one so busy frantically writing notes on the lectures to NOT notice whether my profs paced?