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2018-19 Graduate Associate Teaching Award Recipients
Many of my students express that being at a large university makes them feel isolated and invisible. Thus, I strive to learn all of my students’ names by the first exam. Not only does that make them feel seen, but it allows me to see them as individuals, rather than just a body of students, and, therefore, create community in my class. For example, one student commented, “Our instructor made an effort to know all of our names, which made the super large class feel small.” I use the information that students provide on the first day to connect with them individually, integrating their academic interests, hometowns, and hobbies in my interactions with them. Knowing that I see them reflects to my students that I care about them deeply. I believe that this is reflected further in the frequency of which students come to my office hours. I see an average of two to three students every week, with many students coming not only to discuss my course specifically, but to gain insight on their career goals, academic interests, and learn new study strategies.
When an educational environment feels like a community, the members of that community are much more willing to value multiple perspectives, to take risks, and to approach learning (and life) with a growth mindset and an orientation toward content mastery. To me, these are some of the most important aspects regarding student achievement. In a true communal environment, students support one another, cheer for one another, assist one another, and challenge one another. As an educator, I consider my students to be successful when they are challenging themselves and meeting their personal goals, when they have shown personal growth in their learning. I think it is important to promote mastery in a classroom, but I believe that the only proper way for students to achieve mastery is through knowing that nothing is ever done perfectly the first time.
I consider it essential to make classroom language and content relevant to students’ daily lives and future goals. Demonstrating the utility of language learning is especially important given the large number of students who study Spanish to fulfill a language requirement and are not always interested the language or the cultures it represents. One way to motivate students and ensure their continued success in language learning is to provide a vision of the world as an interconnected network, where the need for and value of a second language are clear.
To be able to think like scientists, it’s important that my students have a good introduction to basic and foundational STEM concepts that can become building blocks for further exploration and mastery. It’s my goal to introduce them to these concepts in ways that they can understand, rather than just memorize. To do this, I spend a lot of my time selecting, organizing, and structuring the material I present to them. Instead of overwhelming them with extraneous information, I carefully curate what I present to students and expect them to learn, cutting out any unimportant information and focusing only on the most important content. This approach of minimizing cognitive load allows deeper engagement with core material, instead of simple coverage of a large amount of poorly learned material.
Some might say that teaching English academic writing merely focuses on narrow language concepts such as grammar or vocabulary forms. However, I believe that each of my classes is a community of learning where international students become socialized and acculturated into U.S. academic culture as they construct their legitimate membership. Thus, my pedagogical approaches emphasize negotiating the cultural capital that students bring into my class to learn/adapt/practice the expected academic writing – locally in my class and globally across other classes. I teach my students to develop their unique voice as second language writers rather than merely reproduce the norms/rules accepted in their scholarships.
To maximize students’ learning, I ask myself—before, during, and after class—6 questions, which have turned into the overarching principles that guide my teaching and help me develop as an instructor. I come up with new answers every time I ask [those questions]. Trying to answer these questions anew has made me the kind of dedicated teacher I am striving to become. I view teaching as a dynamic, iterative process of planning, monitoring, and adjusting. Thus, I change the way I teach from class to class, from semester to semester, and I look forward to how my teaching will evolve in upcoming semesters.
In composition courses, my students learn to look to the moving body for creative inspiration, but also aspects of their lives, such as personal stories, images, written reflections, and interdisciplinary research. Together, we explore the function of cultural forms, abstraction, and narrative in context with their work. As a class, we question aesthetic agendas, support each other’s risks, and inspire each other through our artmaking. I extend this attitude of risk-taking and supportive critique to lecture/seminar courses, as well, where my students develop written fluency, critical thinking skills, and confidence in presentation and discussion. In all my classes, both studio and lecture/seminar-based, I combine embodied exploration, creative practice, and intellectual inquiry with modes of self-reflection that hone the practice of self-study within a supportive group of peers.
The fundamental value that drives the core of my teaching is that everyone is a chemist. Anyone who has baked a cake, washed dishes or even used an antacid for an upset stomach has experienced chemistry congruent to their life. In order to demonstrate my commitment to inclusivity, I refer to all of my students as chemists so we can all share the mutual designation in the classroom. Treating students in a professional and respectful manner reinforces their identity as part of the chemistry community which gives purpose and significance to what they do. Gaining chemistry skills or memorizing chemistry facts have little value without significance, so I am prideful when students share stories with me or with their classmates using chemistry terms and concepts, such as describing their anguish over “too hot to eat” microwaveable macaroni and cheese in terms of heat capacity and specific heat. I appreciate that they recognize the relevance of chemistry in their world.
It was mid-semester in Spring of 2016. I asked my students to sit in a half-circle so everybody could see each other. I was teaching new Spanish verbs, and wanted to try something new: a broken telephone game in which they had to form sentences using the new verbs and vocab. The activity went great, my students were engaged, participating, laughing. When the session ended, one student came to me and said, “I just wanted to say that I love coming to your class”. Her name was Molly and I do not think I will ever forget it. My instant response was “Thanks, Molly, I love coming to class too”. I meant every word. In that very moment I realized that teaching is the best part of my day. I cannot help but feel energized and fulfilled after every class.
One of my primary objectives as an educator—regardless of the specific course I’m teaching—is to assist students in the practice of developing their analytical skills. In my observation, the necessity of analysis often cuts across areas of study and professions. Analysis is also something that I can point to as part of their everyday lives, which encourages them to access their prior knowledge as we complete the work of the class. When I teach students how to interpret and analyze the implicit meanings that shape our worldviews, the goal is never just to complete an essay or exam. Instead, I guide them toward discovering and nurturing an awareness of how such understandings are useful in their daily lives. I also challenge them to grapple with perspectives that may be vastly different from their own. Rather than being passive consumers, I want students to be able to identify which stories aren’t being told and why. And rather than simply parroting whatever they think I want to hear, I challenge them to make their own determinations, but ones that are both informed by an awareness of history and culture as well as supported by evidence and explanation.