Ankle-Deep: Three Weeks Into Teaching Grad Students

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How is my ‘wading into the waters’ metaphor sounding at this point? I think sometimes it is nearly unhealthy how much I desire to write in metaphors. I certainly do not speak in them often (I, like many native English speakers, use idioms all the time though). Alright, opening, trailing thought closed.

I am writing this post at the opening of the fourth week of a six weeks master’s level course I have had the privilege of working with this semester. I started this conversation in a post about three weeks and you can find it here. Half-way through, I have a handful of epiphanies and revelations to reflect on, so if you will indulge me, here is where I feel I am in my conception of teaching at the collegiate level thus far:

1. Students Are Students No Matter Their Age or Experience

I do not mean for this to sound derogatory in any way. What I hope comes across in this statement is that students are always in a state of learning and each comes with unique tools and needs. They reflect me as a doctoral student in many ways (i.e. wading through theory and its usefulness to me; considering new pedagogical approaches and how they work in my context; uncertainty of how my assignments might get taken up by students; the worry and concern over pushback from stakeholders, etc.). Again, I maintain a student is a student no matter our age or experience. Where I see some difference is how my experience as a teacher informs how I discuss our readings and workshops with them (more on this later). These students also have needs that reflect those of my high school students. Again, this is not meant to be a slight to these students. Instead, I think it really humanizes our learning experiences. At any given time, we are both literate and illiterate in a subject and range in our working knowledge that is recognized often as being novice or expert or somewhere inbetween. (I’ll note here briefly that I find the binaries of literate and illiterate and novice and expert to be problematic; these labels support dominate discourse over an ideological view that supports a more equitable conception of identity-in-progress. Still looking into this approach though.) Students, no matter their level, need to be heard, supported, and challenged.

2. My Experience ‘In the Trenches’ Brings Validity to Notions of Theory

I have been told as much from the English education faculty at Kennesaw State University for awhile now, but I have experienced this phenomenon firsthand through the last several weeks. My professors, while all former public school teachers themselves, have been out of those classrooms for a series of years, which unfortunately positions them as theory gurus but also at odds with pragmatic practice. This is really perception versus reality, however. These professors do know to a large degree what the public classroom looks like and are well-read in the issues surrounding public education; still, because they are not in the day-to-day grind of the public classroom, a university student may find dismissing their suggestions for practice quite easy. I, however, get the benefit of the doubt since I have been (eight years) and still am teaching in similar contexts that these students will be. I have observed their willingness to take up my suggestions, anecdotes, cautions, and metaphors enthusiastically; they have also been open to asking me questions about practice with many prompting “how do you _____?” I love these discussions, but I am trying to be cautious about victory narratives as well as inducing unwarranted anxiety in any of them due to my own rougher experiences. This is a balance that I see particularly important to teaching future teachers.

3. I Really Like Teaching at This Level and in General

I had no idea if I would even like teaching college (let alone master’s) level students, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I have had activities I’ve designed go well and had them flop just like in my high school classroom. Having Dr. Dail to dialogue over lessons and activities has been valuable to the process. These discussions really reinforce my understanding of my own learning (as well as others) being social in nature. She has provided valuable insight into why an activity does not go as well as another, and typically the insights are just as valuable for my high school classroom. Next Monday I’ll teach a class meeting entirely solo. I am not nervous–yet–but I do feel a sense of obligation to these master’s students to give my all and make it clear that I value their time. Dr. Dail and I have set it up so that the students can evaluate my instruction for the day, and I believe these evaluations will be extremely valuable as I typically do when my high schoolers evaluate my semester long work. So while I may change my mind next week, as of today I recognize that I enjoy teaching at both the high school and collegiate level. I am by no means ready to teach at a university, nor am I convinced I should; however, I do believe I know I would be capable, and I should stay open to the possibility.

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