When I first started graduate school, I had limited prior teaching experience and was entirely unsure of what to expect. Though I had worked for several summers at a Colorado summer camp where I taught in an outdoor setting, I felt unprepared to step into the more formal setting of a University classroom. I’m so glad that my department emphasized the TILT program so heavily, and encouraged all instructors to consider the certificate program. The experience of attending a wide array of workshops and seminars, and compiling my materials into a single portfolio has helped make my time teaching as a GTA enjoyable, as well as has set me up for future success in my career.
As I was preparing for my first semester as an instructor, I was entirely unsure of what to expect. While on the one hand I was excited about the prospect of being responsible for my own classroom, I was also incredibly apprehensive and often felt overwhelmed and underqualified. Although I have had some limited experiences as an instructor, this would be my first time teaching in the college classroom specifically. That, paired with the fact that I have never actually taken a public speaking course as a student, contributed to an overall sense of uncertainty of how to effectively perform my job as an instructor. In many ways, this first semester of teaching has been an unrelenting trial by fire. But even though my teaching responsibilities have been especially challenging at times, I feel that I have ended this semester feeling more confident about my own teaching abilities and am generally excited about continuing to develop my career in academia.
In the weeks leading up to my first semester of teaching, I tried to squeeze in as much planning and preparation as possible. I tried to base my class plans on my own experiences as an undergraduate and tried to channel what I had seen some of my favorite professors and instructors do within their classrooms. Of course, I quickly realized that the things that I had paid little attention to as an undergraduate actually required a significant amount of care and attention. For instance, I had never really had any realization of the number and scope of questions that I would have to field on a daily basis, and what it would feel like having to come up with an answer on the spot. I am thankful that my first semester of independent teaching was still within the overarching structure of SPCM 200 as a common course, with much of the course content already determined and managed by the Course Director. This teaching arrangement really helped my first year go as smoothly as possible.
One of the most important things that I have learned throughout this semester is something I hope to remind myself throughout the entirety of my future career. It may seem like a simple, and somewhat obvious fact, but not all students are alike. More specifically, not all students who will enter my classroom will be the exact type of student that I was as an undergraduate. Everyone has their own goals and motivations for coming to college, and these are most certainly going to be vastly different than my own. For some students, receiving a C+ on an assignment isn’t something to be concerned about, as it would have been for me, but rather is something to be proud of. Some students are truly passionate about the course materials, whereas some are only enrolled in the course because their major explicitly requires them to do so. I have had to continually remind myself of these differences in student experiences, and that there is value in each of them. Most importantly, I have had to reframe much of my pedagogy as much of my initial expectations were indeed based on my own student experiences. As I continue to develop as an instructor, I hope to keep this simple fact of difference at the forefront of my teaching philosophy.
The opportunity to attend a variety of TILT workshops in addition to our department-specific training in SPCM 675 really helped me feel comfortable stepping into this new instructor role. Through these workshops I was able to learn specific skills to help my teaching, including personal goal-setting, strategies to make my teaching more inclusive, and specific considerations for supporting students who are undocumented. But in addition to these specific skills and strategies, these workshops have been invaluable to me for revealing what happens “behind the curtain” and provide better insight about the system of college education and how its organized and operated. My eventual goal is to pursue a tenure track position at a similar type of university, so getting a chance to see just how involved instructors, faculty, administrators, and countless other staff are in making education possible has been highly beneficial.
Finally, having the opportunity to compile all these workshops, my course materials, and reflecting on my experiences within this portfolio has further helped me grow as a teacher. Creating the teaching portfolio has helped to solidify my own teaching persona and think about my own personal goals and techniques for teaching. Finally, it has helped me collect all my work in one place and better celebrate my achievements. Looking back at my observations, comments, and evaluations—especially in comparison to how unsure I felt when I first started teaching—is something that I am most proud of. These components, as long as the rest of my portfolio, serve as reminder to myself that even though teaching certainly is challenging, it’s still doable. And something that I’m happy to be pursuing.