by Sudip Paul
I’d like to talk about my first teaching experience. It was in the Fall of 2010 – I had to teach integral calculus. I had taught before but it was always 2-3 students at a time. I had no experience of classroom teaching. So I was more than a little worried. My university had a pretty extensive TA training program which ran for an entire week. I attended all the workshops religiously, took notes, read and reread the TA manual. Still I found myself ill-prepared. With hindsight, my lack of confidence was pretty natural but at that point I was super-scared to face my students.
Anyway, the appointed hour came and I had no choice but to go on. I introduced myself, asked each one of them to do a brief introduction and got down to business. Fortunately it was a worksheet session and so I didn’t have to do much. The students were well prepared – most of them had done AP calculus. The first day was a success.
As the quarter went by I found the work more and more easygoing. All I had to do was go to the class and do a bunch of integrals on the board. So I was lax and stopped preparing the homework problems beforehand. “After all, I don’t need to prepare for freshman integration problems” – how wrong I was!
One day we were doing surfaces of revolution. I used to do them in a different way than it was taught in the text. The textbook is very formal – they set up the problem nicely and then solve it by following a specific algorithm. I tried to do the first problem but it wasn’t very easy – I had to step back and think for five minutes before the solution came to me. To the credit of my students no one showed any sign of impatience in the meantime.
I was halfway through writing and explaining my solution when someone politely asked for a clarification. Then it hit me – they are not following anything because I was doing this problem in a completely different method. I tried to make them understand but it was hopeless. What I was doing didn’t have any relation with the stuff they have seen in the professor’s lecture or in the text. So I asked them just to copy it down for now and promised to come up with a better solution next time. I was feeling doubly uncomfortable because it was a day of observation by the TA mentor.
Other than that I didn’t have much trouble with my class. It was a refuge for me – whenever I was stuck with differential geometry or algebra, I would think about the class I was teaching. It was very comforting to know that there is at least one class which I could ace.
In the class I tried to give some additional resources on advanced materials, especially to students who would stay after the class or come to my office hours. One of them couldn’t stop thanking me for telling her about the MIT Opencourseware!
My evaluations were mixed. Two major complaints were about my accent and my handwriting on the board. I am not a native speaker of English and four months is too little time to get my accent adjusted. So I knew it would create problems with at least some of the students.
I learned a lot about teaching after this course. In my view, teaching is like a performing art. No amount of reading or attending workshops will prepare you for the challenge. You only get better with practice.
For all my inexperience, I hope I made at least a small contribution to the students’ learning.
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It is not an exaggeration to say that a great teacher can change a student’s life. There are an endless amount of stories that attest to the benefits of a strong relationship between an educator and pupil.
As some of the most influential role models for developing students, teachers are responsible for more than just academic enrichment. If you want to be a great educator, you must connect with your pupils and reach them on multiple levels, because the best teachers are committed to their students’ well-being both inside and outside the classroom. By forging strong relationships, educators are able to affect virtually every aspect of their students’ lives, teaching them the important life lessons that will help them succeed beyond term papers and standardized tests.
It is not always easy to change a student’s life, which is why it takes a great teacher to do so. Some just need an extra push like the student whose math grade is just a few points shy from the A that will give them a 4.0 GPA; others may be going through something troubling in their personal lives and need someone to talk to. Whatever the student needs to help them excel, a life-changing teacher will be there for them.
While you will spend your entire career learning the different ways you can change your students’ lives, here are three aspects that are directly affected by great teachers:
A great teacher makes learning fun, as stimulating, engaging lessons are pivotal to a student’s academic success. Some students who are more prone to misbehavior, truancy or disengagement are more dependent on an engaging teacher. Making your classroom an exciting environment for learning will hold the students’ fascination, and students learn best when they are both challenged and interested. It’s part of motivating students, which may not be easy, but which will benefit students immeasurably in the long run.
Have you ever had a teacher who inspired you to work harder or pursue a particular goal? Were you inspired to become an educator by one of your own great teachers?
Inspiring students is integral to ensuring their success and encouraging them to fulfil their potential. Students who are inspired by their teachers can accomplish amazing things, and that motivation almost always stays with them. Inspiration can also take many forms, from helping a pupil through the academic year and their short-term goals, to guiding them towards their future career. Years after graduation, many working professionals will still cite a particular teacher as the one who fostered their love of what they currently do and attribute their accomplishments to that educator.
Teachers can also be a trusted source of advice for students weighing important life decisions. Educators can help their pupils pursue higher education, explore career opportunities and compete in events they might otherwise have not thought themselves able to. Students often look to their teachers as mentors with experience and knowledge, and, as an educator, you will almost definitely be asked for advice at some point during your career.
Did you know that one in four students drops out of school or that every nine seconds, another student drops out? Dropping out is a decision that students won’t likely come to you about, but an adept teacher can notice the indications that a student is struggling and intervene before it’s too late. Aside from educating them on the hard facts about dropping out, teachers can also help assess the problem and figure out an alternative. In such situations, teachers undoubtedly have the ability to change the lives of students.
Teachers as Role Models