I appreciated that Sarah Deel emphasized that there are many ways to be a good teacher. One size does not in fact fit all. I have gone through several rotations of “I can’t teach like them, thus I will never be a good teacher” during my time here. After these readings, I feel a bit more self-affirmed in believing that I have the potential to finally find my own stride and be an effective teacher. Alas, I am but a novice at this point in the realm of teaching.
I have officially taught 3 lectures as of this point in my graduate career (second semester of second year of PhD). The lectures were for 3 separate teachers that I was working for, and they all had different expectations. For the sake of respecting their privacy, I will assign them the pseudonyms of Matthew, Lincoln, and Adam.
The first teacher I subbed for was Matthew. When he requested that I teach a lecture he instructed me to use his assigned readings and apply his teaching/power point style. His teaching style (honestly) consisted of him talking at students until the clock ran out. It was not often that his students could get a word in. He is an intelligent and kind man who is respected in our field, but I would not classify him as an above-average listener. When my turn came around to teach, I applied his method and felt very uncomfortable. Talking at people is just not who I am. It was good that he was not there, for about 3/4 of the way through I had to rebel about and asked the students if they had questions. Also, I developed an in-class group activity on the spot in order to combat the monotony. After the class was over, several students actually came up to me to thank me for enabling them to speak and move around. This surprised me, for I had always seen Matthew as the academic giant and research guru. It finally helped sharpen my understanding that being a good researcher does not mean that they are also instantly a good teacher.
My second experience in teaching was when I was working for Lincoln. Lincoln was an “industry person” recruited by department as an adjunct professor. Lincoln had never taught before. She was wise in the ways of her industry experience. I think it was this experience that had some students willing to listen to her. Overall, she was not very organized. At one point, she had to go out of town and said she would need to me to sub for her. She then proceeded to give me a previous teacher of the course’s lecture materials and asked that I follow it to the T. This was a bit aggravating. Verily, as teachers we are teaching preexisting material, but generally teachers have the luxury of shaping the vehicle that conveys this information. I found it difficult to use somebody else’s words. This experience taught me the value of not only having a good grasp of the knowledge at hand, but communicating it in such a way that you feel comfortable standing by. You need to own your words.
My third teaching experience has been by far my favorite. Adam is a newer teacher with somewhat of a “hippie” mentality. She asked me to teach a lecture because she felt that as a PhD student I need to take opportunities to teach with a safety net. She gave me the general subject material, but then she told me I am free to identify the readings (if I wanted to assign any) and to teach in the way that I deemed acceptable. She told me that as a teacher you have to find your style, but not lose the students in the meantime. The only other hard line she set for me was that since this was a 4000-level course, she expected her students to participate in deeper discussion. This meant that I needed to also function as a facilitator. With this knowledge in hand, I created my lecture. I owned it. It was mine. I picked the readings. I walked into that classroom for the first time feeling like an actual teacher. I felt that I had something to teach them. The discussion went well, and the banter was active and intellectual. Afterwards and to my surprise, I had several students come up to compliment me on my teaching. This was a confidence boost I very much needed.
These three experiences have taught me a little bit about who I am. I have a long ways to go before fully knowing what my teaching voice is. I do know that I can’t teach a script that is not mine. I do know that I like to apply a contemporary context to the material. I do know that I like to extend beyond the words in a book. I do know that I can’t just talk at people for an hour and 15 minutes. I do know that I want to allow for a certain level of autonomy among my students. I do know that whether I like it or not, my awkward sense of humor will come out in a classroom setting. Most importantly, I do know that the classes I will teach in the future will have a certain level of co-creation going on between myself and the students.
I have a long ways to go to knowing what kind of teacher I am. I need more time in the classroom to be able to fully test the waters. It’s time to learn to walk.