I settled on a career in academia because I recognized the fulfillment I found in teaching at the head of a classroom. My segue into teaching began with offering English classes to non-native speakers and slowly transferred to art history as I advanced in my degrees to my current station as GTA in the department of History of Art. Although the subject matter of my classes has changed, what remains is the excited feeling I gain when helping my students to acquire new understanding.
If you are like me, you likely feel passionate about the area of your specialization and one aspect of your career that you look forward to is introducing students to the stimulating insights your field has to offer. The benefit of participating as a facilitator in UCAT’s Teaching Orientation is that helps you identify specific classroom practices to convert your warm but amorphous passion into concrete classroom practices that you can wield to improve your efficiency as a teacher, and hopefully improve your students’ experiences in learning.
I went through UCAT orientation’s as a participation the first year of my PhD in 2014. Because I came to OSU with teaching and TAing experience, I was nonplussed to learn that my department required that I attend these sessions, especially because I felt the TA training workshops that I had attended at my previous institution were largely a waste of time. My expectations were almost immediately exceeded, however, and I learned so much about teaching by the end of the orientation that I decided to apply to be a facilitator the following year. I have instructed the “Introduction to Teaching and Learning” the last two years in 2015 and 2016. While I was excited to return as a facilitator to work with new GTAs and help share teaching strategies with them, I did not anticipate just how impactful repeating these trainings would be for my own teaching. Throughout the two “Introduction to Teaching and Learning” sessions, facilitators continually ask GTA participants to stop and reflect on whatever principle of teaching we’ve been reviewing. Participants take time to write out what they have learned, or which practices they foresee implementing. The benefit of being a facilitator is that if you apply yourself, these two sessions can serve as a major “reflective” experience for your own teaching, one that comes right before the start of the new fall semester, where you are perfectly poised to apply new techniques directly into your teaching.
One tangible practice that I have altered as a result from my experiences as a facilitator is the way I approach my first day of class. As a participant, this “first day” section of the ITL training is designed to help you transition mentally from student to teacher as you prepare (perhaps for the first time) to be in front of a classroom. As a facilitator, being reminded of what it’s like to be a student in a new class on the first day has helped me think about and refine the tools I use to establish a proper learning environment from the first day that will help maintain the classroom throughout the semester. Transitioning back and forth between facilitating and teaching has encouraged me to hone first day activities such as finding my purposeful ice-breakers, or even the way I introduce policies. As I’ve become more proficient in teaching from day one, I have seen better results from my students and their willingness to engage in course materials, participate in class discussions, and feel comfortable in approaching me outside of class for additional help.
Along with considering concrete activities that will improve your teaching, another major benefit in working with UCAT is that I was reminded that effective teaching is a career-long pursuit. This perspective allows me to identify areas for improvement both in the short-term, as well as the long-term. Thanks to UCAT, one principle I will now continuously consider is how I can more adequately recognize and respond to diversity in my classroom. Working with UCAT has helped me be aware of how I view my students, the kinds of examples I share, and how I can utilize the diverse backgrounds of my students to compound the educational experience of the classroom to extend beyond merely the subject matter. The importance of bringing an international student into conversation with a student born and raised in Ohio over an issue such as Enlightenment philosophy and government structure is something I would have never recognized, let alone had the awareness to facilitate if it weren’t for learning about diversity through UCAT.
Working as a GTA in my department has offered me excellent experience in working with students in the classroom, giving me opportunity to share my excitement about art history with students who may have never studied art before. But working for UCAT as an orientation facilitator has provided me with invaluable training to craft and hone my teaching to be a more alert and reflective teacher, which has hopefully allowed me to better serve my students.