My first experience teaching was about a year and a half ago. I started a new PhD program and started teaching at the same time. I was teaching the first year engineering course at Virginia Tech, and I was terrified. I thought I had to know everything.
I was worried about talking for an hour and 15 minutes. I was worried about knowing the answers to every question. I was worried about being able to manage the classroom.
But looking back on that first semester that I taught, I learned a lot about my teaching style and approach. While teaching that first semester, I also took a Practicum in Engineering Classroom course where we journaled about our teaching experiences. I just went back through those journal entries and came across several that I think describe my teaching style.
Journal Entry for Dec. 5: I noticed something cool in class today. One of the groups was really struggling to get the robot for the experiment connected. I was trying to help them and help other groups as well. So I would have the group that was struggling try something and while they were working on downloading the programs or the right software or whatever we were trying, I would help other groups. I noticed that a member of another group, who is very good at programming, went and was helping this group of students that was struggling to get the robot connected. I thought it was really cool to see the students start to help each other more and work together.
I hope to encourage students to take ownership of their learning, and I hope to encourage students to work together as they learn. As a teacher, I don’t want to be the one telling students how things should be done. I want students to explore and ask questions and be engaged.
Journal Entry for Oct. 3: In the provided lecture notes, the majority of the lesson was a discussion on what makes a good question. I don’t feel like my students learn very well with just a discussion such as this, so I am going to incorporate an activity. I am introducing several levels of questions and then will ask students to write 2 questions relating to the categories. This will get them thinking about their project and what they want to know. So this is initiating the questioning portion of the project. After students write their questions, I will lead the discussion on what makes a good question, having students reflect on the questions that they just wrote. This way, the topics are less abstract and students can take questions and try to figure out how to improve them to gain more information.
Topics should be relevant for students, especially in first year engineering courses. I want to help students connect information in the class to other material in the class or to other things in their life. I try to incorporate activities and discussions so I am not just lecturing the entire time.
Journal Entry for Nov. 21: I had worked with a student some during class. She really was struggling with MATLAB and was trying really hard to understand what was going on. I got an email from her over break stating that she had figured out the first problem of the homework but had a few questions about the second problem. I could tell that she really wanted to understand what was wrong with her code and how to fix it. So I sent a long response back to this student and tried to answer all of her questions without just telling her the “right” way to do things. The next day I got the most exciting email from her: “Wow-the feeling that comes over you when you understand MATLAB! Thank you so much!” I was so excited to hear this from my student because I knew that this was a huge accomplishment for her and she had really made a lot of progress. I was really excited for her and that I could help her reach this point.
I want to help my students and not just give them the right answer. I hope to listen to the challenges my students are facing and guide them to a solution or conclusion in a way that makes sense for them. Everyone sees problems differently. I try to listen to my students and understand their thought processes, ask questions to guide them, and work with them to figure out problems.
Overall, I want to be approachable, engage students in the learning process, incorporate activities and discussions to help students connect information, and work with students as we navigate different topics, ideas, and beliefs.