Teaching the Teacher

As graduate students, we don’t qualify for many scholarships. Most of those are for undergraduates only. Instead, we qualify for something called graduate assistantships, which vary according to what they offer. But many include a full tuition waiver, as well as a semimonthly stipend (that means twice a month; bimonthly means every two months) in exchange for 20 hours of work per week. It’s safe to say that without this funding, I wouldn’t be able to afford my graduate degree.

But those graduate assistantships vary in work. Some of my fellow grad students grade papers, make copies, write press releases, etc. We essentially do whatever needs done. My GA position is unique in that it contains a couple different jobs. For those graduate students who have assistantships that also teach, they are sometimes called graduate teaching assistants or just teaching assistants. It’s just a more specific GA position. I fall in this category.

Other responsibilities include helping Dr. Britten when he solicits, assisting with an AEJMC newsletter and doing research. I’m lucky to have a GA position that really allows me to further my skills, rather than doing mindless tasks. In addition, I teach the lab portions of Dr. Britten’s journalism 210 class. This lab includes teaching Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. Each semester, there are three sections and all are two hours long. That doesn’t account for answering emails outside of class, having additional office hours, preparing for lectures, and grading all the assignments for about 60 students each semester. While I have had some leadership experience in the past at the student newspaper, teaching is a whole new level.

On Boston University’s Center for Excellence & Innovation in Teaching website, they state that skills you learn include time management, multitasking, public speaking and managing people. Teaching has taught me to be more comfortable in front of a group, as well as be more confident. It has also taught me to think on my feet. You’d be amazed at the questions kids come up with. But with those great skills also come some challenges.

Teaching while being taught
It’s an odd experience being a student and simultaneously teaching. It’s a different line to straddle. When you’re teaching, you have full authority. You control what’s happening in the class. But when you’re in the classroom, you’re back to being a student – you have to put a different hat on. You have to be more submissive and open to learning. It’s a completely different mindset.

Students your age (or older)
When you’re teaching students who are around your same age, it’s sometimes difficult to get respect. In many cases, I’m only a year or two older than these kids. Why should they listen to me? Well, because they have to. I’ve also had the experience where I’ve had students older than me who don’t think they should listen to me. It’s a constant battle.

Being in the same classes
Can you imagine grading one student at 9 a.m. then having a class together with them a couple hours later? It’s awkward. You’re expected to be peers but then be an authority figure, and it increases that tension if you have to work on group projects. And guess what, that student might be grading you soon…

Boston University also gives some behaviors of good teachers – things like setting goals for learning, discussing progress and expect timeliness. These are ideal and sometimes tough to achieve. But rest assured, as they also have some tips on how to make your teaching experience a positive one. Many of these are common sense, but when you’re busy keeping 60 kids under control, it may be easy to forget.

Does anybody currently teach? Have any specific strategies or tips for getting started?

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3 thoughts on “Teaching the Teacher

  1. I’ve never taught, but I am a resident assistant. I can relate to many of the issues you’ve discussed here. I’m in charge of 24 residents, some of whom are my age, and some of whom are older than me, so it’s definitely weird to tell “my elders” what they are and are not permitted to do. And even though I’m an RA, I’m also a resident. They often forget that I have to follow all of the same rules they do, I just have a job to do that keeps residence hall life functioning smoothly. I’ve been criticized for being “mean” or making people follow the rules, all the while, I also follow those rules. It’s always a challenge trying to distance myself from people who are my age, while at the same time, being there to help them sort through their problems, when they need my help. And, like you, I have class with some of my residents. So, I have faced working on group projects with residents, which can be difficult, if I don’t feel their work ethic is up to par with my own. Then I have to be careful that I don’t criticize them as classmates, or they may want to assume that I bear those same feelings towards them as residents, which is never the case. I keep my position as an RA completely separate from the rest of my life. Long story short, I feel your pain.

  2. greerhughes says:

    One thing I know that is frustrating about teaching is the blank stares you can get. You literally have to say, “Does everyone understand?!?! PLEASE AT LEAST NOD YOUR HEAD”. And then you have to smile and be patient. That’s rough.

  3. Mary Power says:

    I’m currently signed up to be a GA next year and I’ve been told I can take on teaching a section of the Final Cut class I took two years ago. This appeals to me because I feel like I have a pretty solid mastery of Final Cut, but the things you said were things I never thought about. There is a good chance people I’ve had class with or will have class with will have to take these courses. That battle is one I suppose I’ll have to prepare for- and I’ll be sure to pick your brain about!

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