Monday, April 02, 2007

Who teaches the teachers?

I do. At least, I will, after being offered a position to help lead TA training in the fall. I get to teach a workshop on grading humanities papers; run a group where TA's-to-be present mock lessons; and lead a somewhat trivial roundtable discussion, on three consecutive days.

Applying for this position made me feel like something of a suck-up. After all, who loves TA'ing so much that they volunteer (well, not quite - I do get paid) to spend more time thinking about it? Apparently, I do. More accurately, I have thought enough about pedagogy over the course of the last two years that I feel a strong desire to convey some of these thoughts to people whom I might be able to help. And this type of workshop did actually help me a good deal as I was preparing to TA for the first time - I was introduced to some common problems like norming grades across different sections of a course, not letting grading become too much of a time suck, the importance of communicating with the professor, etc. etc.

In fact, as I attended that first workshop, I thought to myself that I would be good at leading one of those sessions. The people they select tend to be a certain type of instructor - fairly dynamic, quick on their feet to answer questions, able to project at least a moderate amount of authority in the classroom, even theatrical at times in their self-presentation. In this, they have something in common with the instructors at the test-prep company where I worked for a year; both institutions really look for instructors who at the very least have the ability to hold the attention of sometimes unenthusiastic students.

Presenting myself theatrically in that way is one of the things I enjoy the most about teaching - drawing attention to myself, but for a particular purpose. Teaching this semester, I've used my voice, my hands, different fonts on the page, columns on the chalkboard, whatever is most handy to convince my students that this! material! is! interesting! Today, for instance, was a classic Monday; everyone looked glum and tired. I had prepared a lesson that started out as lecture but got more interactive as the hour went on, culminating in the students' writing, and sharing their writing melodramatically, at the class' end. Knowing that they'd perk up when it came to that point, I tried to inject the lecture with more urgency, to make eye contact more than usual, to convey that there was cause for excitement here. Really, even though this class is underground on a beautiful spring day.

Is all this to say that I enjoy performing? Yes. And maybe to convince myself that if I'm a suck-up for a particular reason, it's not quite as bad?


jane dark said...

Congrats on being offered the position! And well, if enjoying performing makes one a suck-up, then there are at least two of us (and I suspect more).

Breena Ronan said...

Hey, I just got a very similar job, only with a special focus on technology. It will be fun.