A blog advocating autism through my own personal experiences and insights.

Learning How to Teach

Having laid out my plans to continue on in academia after my PhD, I have become aware that there is another set of skills besides good research ability that I need to have and that is teaching ability. Back a few years ago, it was common for potential professors getting their PhDs to not get any training in teaching at all, but simply to learn as they went along. Some succeeded in this way, while others not so much. There is a big difference between being an expert on a certain subject and having the skills necessary to teach it effectively. Fortunately, however, more and more universities today are recognising that actual training in teaching and not just becoming knowledgeable in a subject area is a good idea to set up for future potential university professors. The University of Waterloo has certainly recognised this need and has set up two programs for graduate students to take if they wish to make teaching part of their careers. One of the programs, The Fundamentals of University Teaching, I completed this past summer and the other, The Certificate of University Teaching (CUT), I have just begun this fall. These programs are run by the Centre of Teaching Excellence who greatly encourage any graduate students to take them if they wish to continue in academia. The former is a program that any graduate student can enter into. It requires attending at least six workshops where we learn different teaching methods and styles. It also requires giving three microteaching sessions.

Ever since entering my PhD, I’ve always known I would like to be an instructor of a course before graduating. I have spoken of this desire with the pure math department, and one of my supervisors has let me step in for him as a guest lecturer in two undergraduate classes he’s teaching in the past couple of weeks. The experience was a little anxiety provoking since I’ve never taught a full class period before, but it went reasonably well both times. The first time I did it, he supplied me with the notes that I would teach from. He sat in and provided me with great constructive feedback afterwards. The second time he only gave me a topic with which to teach the class and let me write up all the notes. He reviewed them the day before I would be lecturing and said they were all right. My second supervisor then attended the lecture and said afterwards that my teaching went really well and that I had improved on a couple of things that my other supervisor had noted about the first time, such as my use of whiteboard space. I asked a lot of questions to the students during the lectures to help keep the class engaged, which seemed to work each time. I also experimented with a learning activity that I learned in the teaching programs, which is called a one minute paper. This is where at the end of the lecture I got the students to write down anything confusing on the topic. I also made the second lecturing experience part of my CUT program in so far that I got a staff member from the Centre of Teaching Excellence to supervise my teaching as well.

While still no concrete plans are in place in my teaching a whole course, I know I’m on my way to making this happen. I have proven myself as an excellent researcher within the department and I am now proving myself to be good at teaching as well. I just have to be patient and let things unfold.

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