This post seems rather belated, considering my teaching experience ended nearly 3 weeks ago, but I just had the inclination to write about it.
I guess I have had some time to digest the entire experience, from start to finish. For those of you not aware, I had the opportunity to teach my very own class during summer session at University of California, Santa Barbara. I was in fact, the instructor of record. It was in the Psychology Department, my home department, teaching undergraduates, specifically pre-psychology majors, Introduction to Experimental Psychology. With a master’s degree in experimental psychology, it seemed that I was suited to teach this course and so many things worked out in the universe for it to all come together.
Let me say this right out of the gate: I have the utmost respect for every college professor I’ve had (good or bad). Creating a course from scratch, even with materials from previous instructors, is definitely one of the more difficult academic things I have attempted in my short academic career. However, it was by far the most rewarding things I have done, as well.
I taught lecture 3 days in a row each week, each class lasting 85 minutes. Out of 6-week course, I gave 14 lectures and 3 exams. I held 2 office hours a week, but more often than not, my students from this class came to my other office hours–so really I held 4 office hours a week to allow these students to ask me questions. I got many emails too. I was a TA and a high school research mentor during this time too, so I was stretched pretty thin.
Lecturing was pretty surreal. I recall on my first day, I was nervous as hell. There were about 70 students in the class and it was my job to let them know what the class was about. The funny thing was only about 5 or so people dropped after the first week. The sad thing was only about 2/3 would show up to lecture each day. I also recall that I got less and less nervous, save for the minor butterflies 2-3 minutes before the class period starting. It took about 2 weeks for me to get participation from the students, but that didn’t stop me from asking questions everyday to force participation. I think, from the students’ perspectives, that they wanted to feel me out before they started opening their mouths and speaking in a public forum. Among the things during lecturing that I’m most proud of was the ability to make the class laugh with my brand of humor. Not everyone laughed at all the jokes, but enough did that I knew I had the majority of the class’s attention. I will admit that I had some tendency to get crossed with my words and at some points was probably way too confusing. I’m confident that as I continue to teach, I will become more articulate without the aid of a presentation and confusion caused by me (not the material) will decrease. I assume that this is a talent that comes with practice.
A slightly frustrating aspect of the course, of which I had no control, was the inclusion forced curve over final grades. A certain number of students in the course were going to receive a certain grade based on their overall performance and the performance of their peers. Sure, it made grading more structured, but I can’t help but think some students probably got shafted. Experimental psychology is a difficult subject and would probably benefit from having additional discussion sections in addition to the main lecture time. Despite my frustrations, the students I expected to receive high grades did. The students who sought my help and further explanation performed better on the exams. I guess I won’t be confident or satisfied with my teaching style until I have free rein on assigning my own grading policies and scale. I can take solace in the fact that I have maintained a certain level of undergraduate ability that is allowed to enter the psychology major at UCSB.
I am eager to read my student evaluations. I don’t care if they are positive or negative (although I hope positive out-numbers negative). Positive comments are usually good to validate the things you did well or give a much-needed ego boost after the energy drain of creating the course. Negative comments (if they are constructive) are useful for improvement. I wouldn’t say I am a terrible teacher, but I also wouldn’t honestly say I am a perfect teacher. I am also hoping for some off-the-wall comments or drawings that I usually get. While unhelpful, they are always good for a laugh. Currently, I am unsure when summer instructors will get to see these evals, but I assume it won’t be until fall quarter starts and they have compiled all the grad instructor evals.
By far, the entire experience was excellent. I honestly can’t wait to do it again; hopefully I will get to try another class to put together from scratch. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if I am given the same class, since I now have the experience. The peer collaborations were priceless and the advice from my friends and colleagues were invaluable. I am excited about the prospect of obtaining a certificate in undergraduate teaching from UCSB to go along with a (hopefully) fruitful research career.
Last, I can honestly say that I felt really great hearing and seeing students call me “professor”. While not an official title or something I’ve earned through my Ph.D., some camps believe a college teacher is a professor and for undergraduates, it goes with the territory. It was always great being addressed like that. Something to look forward to for a little while, methinks.
Looking back, I am reminded that I made the right decision to stick with psychology and to stick with a life of academia. If teaching is this rewarding, all the other stuff pales in comparison. I hope to wow some job search committees in future!