One of the perks of getting your PhD is that you are generally considered fit to teach college courses. But before you are handed the keys to the classroom, there is an interview and a “teaching demonstration.” This week, I gave a teaching demo (TD) for an opportunity to teach environmental science, and I wanted to share some of that experience.
The TD is kind of a strange and different thing. It is not the same as giving a lecture in a class. So what is it? Cue the ominous music, pan left, and zoom in on the steaming hot bowl of awkward.
You aren’t necessarily teaching real students. In this case, my “students” were two faculty that have already taught this course several times. Yikes. You are meant to pretend they are students. Presumably so are they, but my ‘students’ forgot that a few times. To be fair, after teaching a topic for many years could you pretend to be an incoming student? Me either.
You may have a very short time frame, in my case 15 minutes. I knew this going in, but I should have practiced more (a lot more) to keep within the time frame. I didn’t factor in for questions and interruptions. I suggest that you gather up and practice your lesson with a group of students, your lab, or your mommy circles! In my TD, they had to cut me off before I finished. I was able to get through about 75% of what I had prepared. At least, I had gotten the advice that it is better to have too much prepared than too little!
Do’s and Don’t’s
Do – prepare your lesson in advance and practice on family, friends, and peers
Don’t – only practice in the car in the parking lot on your way in to the building.
Do – prepare hand outs for active learning activities
Don’t – Go over time and have to cut the active learning activity 😦
Do – bring a laser pointer and a dry erase board marker if you need it
Don’t – assume they will have the supplies you need
Do – check out other blogs for advice – there is a lot of other advice out there. Here is one my favorites!
Do – Be enthusiastic and passionate. Here is a great blog post about teaching that I found inspiring – http://sociobiology.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/what-is-your-legacy-going-to-be/
We all have that one class in college. The one that really changed the way we think. The one that got us excited just to engage and discuss ideas with our peers. We carry it with us. We retain maybe not the facts and details, but the passion and the curiosity it inspired in us. For me this class was HIS 274, the history of science. I took it during what was arguably the low point of my college career. My mother had just been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and with that the spark I had had for learning just went out. At most, the pilot light was still on. I dropped all but 3 classes, and I was phoning it in. Except that was the semester I took HIS 274, and this class I couldn’t help but want to learn. As much as my mind tried drifting, I was repeatedly drawn back to the present by the Dr. Graham’s lectures, the readings, and the lively discussions. It was an oasis for me. That is learning at its best – restorative. I learned big ideas and little details that married in my consciousness and changed me. My teaching goal is to provide that kind of amazing experience to students.
A final word on the TD. Graduate schools do not prepare students to give TD’s, not one bit! This is an unfortunate gap in graduate training. We are trained to give research job talks, but not teaching demos. I find this odd, considering that one of the well-traveled paths after the PhD is teaching college. There is a simple solution. Require students to give a TD annually in addition to their research presentation. It just makes sense to invest some time in training students to teach, and providing critical feedback during that process.