Teaching is something I’ve had the opportunity to do my entire graduate career. I feel very fortunate for this because I’ve been told that some graduate programs don’t afford students teaching opportunities until they’re much more advanced.
My very first day of graduate school at Illinois State University (ISU) was the day I taught my first class. I was the instructor of a research methods writing lab. The Friday before, I met with my supervisor, and during that meeting with him, he gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me through the years: fake it ‘til you make it. His words stuck with me especially through the first semester at ISU. I was a brand new graduate student, and mere months ago I was an undergraduate just like my students; however, I knew the course material and was going put my best foot forward to teach it to them. I didn’t know every little detail about how things would unfold throughout the semester, but I didn’t let that detract from my credibility.
Since that first semester at ISU, I’ve come a long way in terms of experience and confidence. Now I’m teaching as the instructor of record at UTEP, and I’m enjoying it more and more each semester. One aspect of teaching at UTEP that I’ve greatly appreciated is that graduate instructors are strongly encouraged collaborate with one another (like sharing materials and such) as teaching at first can be time consuming. I was able to do this with Karly when we both taught statistics last semester. It was especially great because she had taught the course before and was full of wonderful advice.
Up to this point, I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t received much negative push-back from students (as in they won’t listen to me because I’m still a student). I also try to prevent this sort of thing from happening by presenting myself in a professional manner. This includes dress and behavior. Weirdly enough though, my family fully expects this to be a big issue for me because somehow my youth and appearance are supposed to detract from my credibility or lessen my knowledge base.
As I’m progressing through my graduate career, I’ve been given some conflicting advice by faculty at various institutions. Some are suggesting that I should stop teaching altogether in graduate school because my time would be better spent conducting research and submitting publications. Their logic is that teaching-focused institutions care about publications too, which I don’t doubt is wrong. Others, though, are suggesting that I shouldn’t stop teaching because teaching experience is the most important section on your CV.
At this point, I’m not listening to either side whole-heartedly. I’m still teaching and am making a genuine effort to spend more time on research because both are important for the career I want to pursue.
Written by Jen Blush