What I Learned From Undergraduates

Since my first semester of teaching undergraduates face to face ended two weeks ago, I’ve spent some time thinking about what I learned, liked, disliked, didn’t understand, found funny, etc. about the experience. There has been a lot to process, especially with another semester of undergraduate teaching not too far away. I’ve also talked with other doc students, friends, family, and colleagues about teaching in general. It’s curious to hear how other instructors, not matter what they’re teaching, interact with students, develop their teaching styles, and assess their own successes (and failures) as an instructor. Mostly I’ve been surprised by what I’ve learned!

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed teaching undergraduates this semester. I expected to like working with undergraduate since I’ve worked quite a bit with their age group as a librarian. Until this semester, my experience with teaching undergrads has been solely online, with no interaction outside of e-mail. In the face to face environment of the classroom, I get the same energy boost I got while working with teens in the public library. The enthusiasm and curiosity of undergrads is contagious and motivates me to perform better as a teacher.

However, this energy boost also comes with an serious energy drain.I’ve been surprised  at how tiring, mentally and emotionally, teaching undergraduates can be. Whether it is the significant increase in e-mails or the self-doubt about my own abilities as a  teacher, this semester has been a bit more exhausting than others. To me, it feels as though undergraduates need significantly more, and with a greater intensity, from teachers than master’s students. It’s likely that the more experience I get teaching undergraduates over my career, the less draining I will find my teaching experience. At least I hope so.

Another revelation from this semester has been that I can make a mistake or goof up as a teacher and it’s okay. Students (and fellow instructors) are surprisingly understanding and forgiving. Being a perfectionist, I have a tendency to blow up a small mishap and blow it up to the level of a catastrophe. For every mistake I’ve made over the course of this semester, I’ve discovered something about teaching and myself. For example, if a student feels that you have made a mistake in grading/attendance/participation, they will call you out on it. Repeatedly. Via e-mail. Yes.

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Teaching Humor!

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