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GRADUATE ASSOCIATE TEACHING AWARD WINNERS
From Krista's advisor's letter of recommendation:
I have never seen a graduate student instructor handle a classroom of students with such grace, talent, and ease as Krista did. … Krista is hands down the most talented teacher of all of these students—of all graduate student instructors I have ever observed in any capacity in my entire career as a professor of 14 years.…I can easily say that I was the one who learned a thing or two about teaching that day. Krista’s ability to combine very difficult material—difficult emotionally and academically—while engaging students directly is astounding.
As I reflect in closing on Kaitlin Clinnin's teaching, I'm struck again by the care and thoughtfulness with which composes her courses-always with the goal of engaging students in ways that best situate them to meet their own goals and course learning objectives.
Jon possesses a combination of passion and skills that result in dynamic, informed, challenging and highly effective classroom instruction. In my observation of his class last spring, I found that he had a great rapport with his students…Jon has a special aptitude for summarizing complex ideas clearly and succinctly; he shares his knowledge with students in an accessible way and challenges them to question and seek further information.
As sciences cannot work in isolation, similarly we as scientists cannot progress and innovate individually. We need to work as a community and build on each other’s experiences and make the framework of knowledge more intricate and connected. This directly applies to the process of learning for students as well. I try to facilitate an inclusive environment in my class by having my students work in groups and not only learn from my experiences by also from their peers. This is essential as each individual comes with their own set of experiences and this opens up the possibilities of improving and making lasting connections between the different pools of information that each one brings along with them.
I asked myself a simple question: can I convey the beauty of mathematics to another human being? Teaching from this point on became a personal matter to me in addition to being a professional responsibility. That was the time I formulated my primary goal as a teacher: helping students enjoy math as much as I do. This goal is also a reflection of my belief that enjoying a subject is fundamental to learning it and succeeding in it. Yet, this goal is inherently tough because, well, math is hard. If taught formally, it’s boring, dry, mechanical, and completely unenlightened. The question then became: how can I make such a fearful subject enjoyable, not just manageable?
I work incredibly hard to create collaborative, intellectually demanding, discussion-based learning environments that will leave a similar lasting impact in my own students. I create these experiences for my students by prioritizing two things in my teaching: 1) engendering bold participation and 2) teaching critical analysis as a transferrable core competency. I believe it is important to get to know my students early in the semester and learn about their goals, fears, and strengths. With that knowledge in hand, I tailor my teaching to build from their areas of confidence. I want students to understand that when they bring go the classroom is already a strong enough platform from which to step forward into difficult dialogues with others.
First and foremost, I always try to be aware of the anxiety that can accompany the courses that I teach. Let's be honest—math makes a lot of people nervous. Even before I start teaching the topics “L'Hopital's Rule” or “Partial Fraction Decomposition,” students may already be shuddering at the section titles alone. So how does one combat such trepidation? Well, for one, I always work up to the current topic at hand. I provide motivation based on what we've previously covered, and I draw analogies to content that I know my students feel more comfortable with. A simple acknowledgement such as “True, Lagrange multipliers sound intimidating, but they're really just a new way to find absolute maxes and mins!” immediately puts smiles on many students' faces. They understand that I'm aware of their anxiety, and this builds trust that everything will be alright. I can then delve into the new content, crafting a story or two so that the new methods stick.
There are many students who have the desire to do well but are held back by a weak math foundation and need excellent instruction to succeed. I have made it my personal mission to reach such students. Though these students can be found in any math class, there are many students who struggle in the lower level math courses. I have specifically requested such courses so that I have the opportunity to help these students succeed. Of course, I always try to help all of my students and challenge them to reach their fullest potential, but I especially try to pay attention to the student who is working hard yet still struggling with the material, for this is where I can do my best work and have the largest impact.