Yesterday I got to actually teach a class. I’ve taught before – after all that’s generally what you’re suppose to be doing during labs as TA. And I’ve presented slides to students before, during labs. But I’ve never actually stood up in front of a class and given a full lecture.
I’m sure this surprises some of you, since I know some (many?) schools have students doing full on teaching quite quickly. My department doesn’t do this. Pretty much the only opportunities for teaching are similar to the one I had today – the instructor for the course had to miss a class and a student was asked to fill in. There have been a couple of rare occasions when students have actually been able to teach a whole semester.
I’ve written before why every grad student should be a TA at least once. And I’m ready to add on to that that every grad student should teach/lecture at least once. At the very least, it’ll point out whether you can or cannot stand teaching. And whether you have any ability at it.
I had an interesting conversation with a friend of a friend recently. She has been a nurse for about a decade now, and has often been asked to teach. She thought this offer was extended to all nurses, and didn’t think anything of it. And she thought that all people can teach. In my experience, this is not the case. I can think back to having student teachers in high school who just couldn’t figure out how to connect with students and transfer knowledge. On the other hand, I’ve had some really great teachers (some student ones) over the years. And I’ve had some decent to good ones – not great, but not terrible. I told this person that not everyone can teach, and the fact that they keep asking her back means that she’s probably a natural, and she should be proud of it.
I’ve had a few people give comments like that to me, but it’s hard to know whether they’re just being nice or it’s actually true. The “real” truth comes out once you actually have to teach a class and start to get the feedback from the students. I hope by the time I finish my experience as a grad student, I’ll have had, at least, a bunch more opportunities to teach. Even better would be a chance to teach (or co-teach) a full class.
For now, I’m just going to enjoy the extra confidence teaching a class gave me, and continue to look for more opportunities to teach in the future.