Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Teaching Philosophy: Round 1

Graduate school is actually a pretty sweet gig. It isn't glamorous or cushy, but you can learn a lot and become a really well rounded person. So long as you don't mind living on the cheap, you also get taken care of pretty well. The way graduate school usually works (in the physical sciences anyway, I don't know about humanities) is you get paid to be in a program. If you don't have outside funding (such as a fellowship) you usually get a stipend to keep you alive. In exchange, the graduate student either has a job as a research or teaching assistantship.

Teaching assistantships vary, depending on the needs of the college and the class. I've had both non-teaching (grading) and teaching assistantships. I've found that I prefer teaching, even though it can be much more labor intensive. For example, this semester I'm running three sections of an introductory geoscicences lab. This usually involves going over a brief lecture, organizing materials, running the lab, and grading assignments. Depending on the lab, this can be a lot of work, and this too can vary from week to week.

Many of my students are not geology students, and they are there with the attitude that they just need to get through this class and be done with it. I've found that many TAs are willing to just let students slide by; this is not my way of doing things. This is because I get great pleasure out of teaching something, that great moment when a student finally understands what you've been showing them. On the one hand, I know that much of what they'll get from me will never be used again. On the other, I know that a greater understanding of the earth and how it works can be useful if not entertaining. I had a student tell me once that they don't look at outcrops the same way anymore. It sounded like a compliment, and I'm taking it as one!

It's easy to get bogged down with myself: my own homework, assignments, papers, research. Yet in spite of my busy schedule, I would love to have a student come to my office looking for help, because I could certainly spare a moment to teach.

Teaching has vastly improved the way I feel in front of people. Almost everyone has felt that sense of terror when they know they need to get up in front of people and speak about something. I used to get nervous even asking questions in a class or meeting. I feel far more comfortable being heard in groups since I've started teaching on a regular basis. I can now say that I am willing and eager to talk to large groups, even in excess of a hundred people. Three years ago that would have been impossible for me. I have graduate school to thank for this skill.

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