Thursday, 13 September 2012

Behind the Scenes of Undergraduate Teaching

Ok, so maybe my classroom isn't as cool as this, but from next week I will have a classroom.  That's right.  From next week, I officially take on my role as Teaching Assistant (TA) and will be lecturing first year undergraduates in research skills.

Seeing as I also did my undergraduate here, I remember sitting in those same classes and thinking "Oh my gosh, these teachers know so much, how am I ever going to get to learn this?"  It was often followed by the thought "They're so put together and organised.  How do they do that?

Let's just say, it's interesting seeing it from the other side.

My first lecture is on Monday (that's rougly three-and-a-half days from now) and I am only today sitting down to figure out what on earth I'm going to teach them.  I'd like to clarify, this isn't entirely my fault.  The person I am taking over from has had a baby and is moving across the other side of the world in about eight weeks, so needless to say she was a little busy for handovers.  Instead, I finally got "Editor" access to the online software Blackboard, where lecture notes and module materials are posted.  I think most universities have some form of this.


I've got my predecessor's slides and am now setting about making my own resources and lectures based on what has been taught before. (If it ain't broke, don't fix it and all that).  I am also turning my thoughts to how to be the best teacher I can be.  I've been told teaching experience is far down the list when it comes to important things on your CV, but it's something I've always wanted to do so I'm glad to get the opportunity.   Recently, the Thesis Whisperer wrote about having patience as an acadmic teacher (Note: I'm sorry, I couldn't find the exact post, but you should still click that link to check out the website - it will save your life as a PhD student in times of stress).

Basically, the idea of the post was to remind those of us who are teaching that new students will often make the same mistakes and it is easy to get very quickly exasperated and perhaps be less patient with the 20th person who's asked you the same question than you were with the 1st.  I have to admit, this is one thing I was guilty of in my marking last year.  When I repeatedly saw basic errors in referencing, for example, across 95% of the papers, I found it very hard not to get the red pen out and go crazy.  What I need to remember - especially when I am teaching the same class five days a week - is that every student there is coming to this subject matter for the first time.

That's also really exciting!  I feel really priveleged to be trusted in assisting the education of first years.  For many of them, this is their first step into further education and this year will inform not only their opinions of university life, but of their subject and of who they are as students.  I'm going to get to introduce them to a completely new way of thinking and a subject that is completely new for the majority of them.  I hope that I can display my enthusiasm both for the subject and their own learning through my lectures and that some of them at least may get something from it.

I am, of course, a bit nervous too, given it's really only three-and-a-half days a way.  I keep telling myself that they will assume I know what I'm doing.  But then I take the time to really confirm it - I do know what I'm doing.  I am passionate about psychology and I have not only got a funded PhD position but I've been trusted to teach this class - ergo, other people think I know what I'm doing too.

Now let's hope I can convince the first years!


  1. im just curious, what are you teaching? from the post u mentioned teachers, so i reckon u're teaching ppl from the education faculty.

    i mostly enjoy post graduate classes from the education faculty. the crowd can be so lively and participative.

    the ones from the engineering tend to be very serious and argumentative. i guess it's kinda true. what u learn can shape what u are.

  2. Hi Pikir,

    Like I said in my post, I'm teaching psychology undergraduates, which I'm really looking forward to. They tend to engage a bit less than postgrads, but I'm hoping I'll find ways to encourage them to take part.

  3. whoa.. sweet. psy's is one of my fav subjects :)

    give the students a real life scenario to play with, when discussing intricate psychological theories. from my experience that would really spark their interest to take part.