Me, Myself, and Teaching.

Summary

In the past few years at Virginia Tech I have been fortunate to be a teaching assistant in a great diversity of classes. I started assisting in the general biology laboratory sessions, in which I presented a short introduction to a topic and then moved to practical component. Then I assisted in a physiology class which was lecture based. Thereafter, I assisted in an introductory class, in the Fish and Wildlife Department, composed of over 100 students; the instructor had a lecture system composed of a PowerPoint presentation and then we would break into groups where I facilitated student discussions within and between groups. Lately, I have been working with a group of undergraduate students that volunteer at Virginia Tech’s Black Bear Research Center (BBRC). I designed a series of workshops to educate students about different procedures and techniques that we use at the BBRC. In these workshops, I use different teaching techniques that allow me to show students the purpose of techniques and applicability and finally guide students while performing such techniques.

I have found that my teaching skills have changed over time since the first lab session I directed in biology. I am more approachable, I tend to listen to students more often and frequently consider their ideas to implement in class. I tend to frame the content in a “big picture” rather than focusing on details. I am now accepting of students making mistakes; I actually welcome those to introduce further explanations or spark curiosity in students. Even though I wanted to be a professor since I was an undergrad, I have found myself enjoining more and more my pedagogical activities because of my interactions with students. I feel more comfortable and energized while teaching. I want to walk around the room if I am in a classroom or I want challenge students performing an activity. My dry humor flourishes, very often under the radar on students.

My experiences, the professors I have taken class from, the classes I am taking for the graduate  teaching certificate, and professors I have worked with in teaching have made me realize that the art of teaching is not a static process. I have come a long way, but there is a lot more to go to improve my teaching skills, because I believe that I need to learn much more and do my best to excel as a future professor. I have also learn that teaching techniques are context dependent, and I need to refine the appropriate timing for when they should be uses to adequately stimulate students during the learning process.

Summary

10 thoughts on “Me, Myself, and Teaching.”

  1. Nice post, Bernardo. It’s refreshing to read that you’ve come a long way in your teaching because personally I haven’t been in a substantial teaching position yet and I’d be lying if I said I’m not nervous that I won’t be good at it. I do think that if I want to be good at it then I will be, so it isn’t as if I’ll let that fear paralyze my future teaching success, but just knowing people have had to adapt how they started teaching to where they’re at now is just reassuring for when I do start. Also, the point you made about welcoming students’ mistakes makes a lot of sense. Obviously you don’t want to humiliate anyone for not knowing something/getting something wrong, but realizing that those are opportunities to get someone to learn is what teaching is all about and I hope I am able to correct misconceptions of my own students in the future.

  2. I once gave a series of in-class examples of oral citations given in context of an academic public speech using nothing but Ghostbusters references.
    … no one got it.

    1. Yes, unfortunately the generational shift bites all of us at some point. When I started teaching I relied heavily on Star Trek Next Generation to explain the Enlightenment and cultural relativism. It worked really well until it didn’t. Deep Space 9 ended, Voyager was cancelled…no one caught my references anymore. I’m still bitter.

  3. Bernardo – what I most like about this is that you see your teaching self as a work in progress, and you seem genuinely pleased that you enjoy working with students so much. What’s the source of your wordle?

    1. Yes, I always have a great time during and after teaching… although, sometimes I would like make some students open their eyes much quicker than they do (for the lack of saying something violent).
      I got the worldle from tagxedo.com. You can personalize the shape and also set the statistics used to determine the resulting words, I loved it! I ended up trying this site because wordle.net did not want to work for me at all.

  4. Great post, Bernardo. Thanks for sharing your experience. The BBRC workshops sound awesome. It’s also encouraging to realize that you don’t have to get it all right right away with teaching.

  5. Thank you for this post. I enjoyed reading about your progression. I was an undergraduate TA for physics in college, and I experienced a similar trend. At first, I strictly adhered to the rules given to me from a former TA, nervous to branch out from what was accepted. By the end of my TA work, I was more comfortable allowing students to make suggestions and following those suggestions. I also learned that I needed to be more flexible because, like you said, teaching styles are often context dependent.

  6. I love the last line of your blog, “teaching techniques are context dependent, and I need to refine the appropriate timing for when they should be uses to adequately stimulate students during the learning process.”

    What a great way to remind us that we need to look at each situation individually as well as each student individually. Each need to be considered in order to effectively teach.

  7. Yes, will not experience make us think more broadly? And actually over time we will know the students and can understand what kind of educational techniques are good for them

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