Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Graduate School & Teaching

I was recently asked to participate in a panel about teaching in graduate school. Our moderator asked us a series of questions, and we took turns answering and discussing with one another. I knew several people on the panel, and one of the panelists was a former student of mine. She is now getting her Masters in education (I was pretty stoked to see her). Sadly, not many people were in the audience (Saturday morning! It's was be expected). Here are some of the best questions and my responses...

What's the best advice you have for getting started as a TA?
Just do it. You will not gain experience teaching unless you actually put yourself in a position where you have to think carefully about how you are interacting with your students and helping them learn. Teaching and learning (they go hand-in-hand, after all) are very humbling experiences. You have to be prepared when you enter the classroom and you also have to be prepared to reflect on your experiences once you leave. Keep a teaching journal, or at the very least be organized and keep track of your practice so that you can build on your experiences.

Look beyond the walls of the classroom: teaching and learning does not have to occur in a formal setting with desks and a chalkboard. You may find opportunities to teach by volunteering your time, tutoring or sitting down with a group of graduate students and discussing what goes on in your classroom. Most importantly, be thoughtful about what you do, how you do it, and what it means for those around you.

How do you make sure to teach the "right" class to build your CV?
I don't view teaching experience in graduate school entirely as a CV building activity. My goal is to master a set of teaching skills that I can apply to any class I choose to teach in the future. My personal goals are to understand how to measure student learning, how to interact with my students personally and intellectually so that I help them acquire transferable skills for life long learning, and I want to capture and analyze my teaching practice to that I can share my experiences with others. I want to treat my teaching as a craft, not a job: one suggests joy and internal motivation, the other suggests, well, a job.

How do I find a mentor?
Identify people who are doing things that you want to do someday, then introduce yourself, buy them a cup of coffee and pepper them with questions. I do not have one mentor. I have several, because each person excels at something different, and collectively they provide me with a unique perspective on what it means to teach in higher education. Ultimately, though, I have to take in and filter advice that is pertinent to my own vision, but I am only able to achieve this by asking questions. Lots of questions.

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