Monday, February 3, 2014

Teacher's Hat

I've said before there are many hats that a graduate student wears in the university setting: student, researcher and teacher. Last week I talked about the researcher part, this week I'm going to delve into the teacher's hat. I feel fortunate as I have the same class that I taught last semester so the prep time is a lot smaller than it was last semester. Grad students do not always have this luxury.

I teach a lab so preparation generally looks like writing the intro lecture, going over the lab materials and methods so I'm sure I know exactly what we are doing, and write the quiz and/or exam. The morning of lab involves setting up the lab materials. I always start with a lecture on safety and overview what they are going to see/do then I let them go do it. While the students do their work, I mill about and answer questions. After they have completed everything, they come up and take the quiz and then they can leave. Once all the students have left, I clean up and head out. Before the next week, quizzes and any lab reports have to be graded. Then the cycle starts all over!
Earthworm "station"

If it is an exam week, then dissecting and pinning specimens, setting up microscope slides and marking stations with the direction students should move at the end of the time period have to be completed during the pre-lab set up phase. We do practicals, they have to examine actual specimens and slides to answer the questions and they have a set amount of time (90s) to do so before they have to go to the next station. It is a lot different than your normal exam for both students and instructor. The set up takes at least an hour! One would think the dissection would be the part that takes the
Pointer must be carefully placed.
longest, but it is actually setting up the microscopes. I have to tape them 4 different ways so that the students cannot accidentally bump them and move where I have so carefully placed the pointer to a different structure. I had one today and I would not have made it without the help of two other TA's who came! After the students complete the practical, all of the specimens and microscope have to be cleaned up and put away properly.  I always try to leave the lab space exactly as I found it so that the next lab sections do not have to deal with my mess. Then the exams have to be added to the stack of things to grade before the next week.

Personally, I love teaching! It is the entire reason I am getting my PhD, to be able to make teaching undergraduates my full time, benefit providing, awesome job. I love seeing that light bulb go on when they grasp a difficult concept! I love watching them get excited about something they had either never considered or never appreciated before! I am not sure I have ever gone through a semester of teaching without a handful of students remarking how much I love my job. If I had the option to be on a research assistantship instead of a teaching assistantship I am not sure that I would take it. Teaching, even this class which is not my forte, and interacting with students reminds me WHY I am here. Why I am putting myself through the panic inducing qualifying exams, why I am staying up crazy hours trying to get everything done yet still spend time with my kid, why I am out here all alone, away from my support groups. If I did not have the teaching experience, I could see myself burning out quickly. For a lot of graduate students, teaching is something they do begrudgingly to get paid but for me it's re-energizing. And I hope it always remains that way.

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