At this time last year, I was registered in the Languages of the Media as an undergraduate student.
Just one year later, I was tasked with leading the class. For just under three hours that evening, I was more or less on my own, faced with a sea of 200 undergraduates for their second class of the semester.
*record scratch* *freeze frame*
“Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation.”
I should preface by saying that this semester, I have been hired as one of three Teaching Associates (yes, Associates, not Assistants) for this 200-student class in Media Studies. This small switch in title–from Assistant to Associate–in my opinion, totally changed the environment of the classroom. Languages of the Media, even at this early point in the semester, had a strong learner-centered focus. What this means is that instead of looking to our Professor as the all-knowing God of Media studies, with us TA’s as his evil minions, all four of us, as equally qualified Teaching Associates, are invited and encouraged to collaborate and bring our varying expertise to the classroom. This was my day to bring it. That week, the class was scheduled to set up their WordPress blogs and learn about creative commons video-making, both of which I imagined as a short, hands-on workshops. I was tasked with most of the weight of the lecture, as my skillset matches really well with this content.
I, interestingly enough, had asked Kelly and my peer-observer, Laura, to be on the lookout for my dealings with uncertainty, ambiguity, and the limits of my knowledge. This language actually came from Language of Media’s syllabus, and is a core learning outcome of the course: “(8) Appreciate uncertainty, ambiguity, and the limits of knowledge by creating unique and responsible writing and media works”. My observers did not have to look very far for any of these characteristics: within moments of beginning my lesson plan, the sheer number of users in the class had crashed UofG’s WordPress page. “Okay. That’s fine. Just… keep moving…” was all that came to my mind. So, pushing past the technical failure, I dove into the next section, Creative Commons, much earlier than planned. In my opinion, this section ended up being more of a jargon-heavy romp through definitions of copyright than a workshop. At this point I felt frazzled, my heart was racing, but then, out of the blue there was a hand up for a question:
“So, which parts of this are we going to be tested on?”
I believe my response was to smile and politely tell the student that none of my teaching was for the sake of memorization, and that rather, I was trying to teach students skills that would aid them greatly in the creation of their own transmedia story (which was due the next week). This was a sort-of aha moment as far as I could tell: there was a chorus of laptops being shut, pens being dropped, and I expected that a large portion of the class would leave, confused as to why they were even there if note-taking was not recommended. But no one left. Instead, they sat and actually absorbed what I was saying, asking questions when they arose, and were less afraid to ‘miss’ specific terms–because they could actually put the skills I was teaching them to real-world use. Maryellen Weimer notes this this in her article Five Characteristics of Learner-Centered Teaching, where she attests to the importance of explicit skill instruction rather than assuming that students are coming equipped with everything they need to succeed. Though this generation of students is extremely tech-savvy, I learned that they actually know very little about online legality and creative commons.
I want to note that I thought this three-hour class went horribly. In fact, as soon as all of the students had left the room, I burst into tears. I felt fraudulent and like I had embarrassed myself. It took me a few days to understand that all of these feelings were a totally normal part of a first teaching experience, and that I would learn to harness and grow from them. What really helped me with this realization was rereading Brookfield and using his lenses: the lens of my own autobiography as a learner of reflective practice, the lens of learners’ eyes, the lens of colleagues’ perceptions, and the lens of theoretical literature. Since my autobiographical lens was clouded at the time, I looked to the others. The support I received from from the other Teaching Associates was phenomenal, they assured me that it had not gone as poorly as I had perceived it had. Laura’s feedback was what really solidified my confidence about how the lecture went– she wrote that I seemed approachable and happy to be there, as well as that I apparently made the students laugh at one point, which my mind had completely blocked out.
I am so grateful for coming full-circle with this experience.
Not bad for an MA student who still doesn’t have her undergrad in hand yet.
Brookfield, S. (1998). Critically reflective practice. Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Profession, 18(4), 197–205.
Weimer, M. (2012). Five Characteristics of Learner-Centred Teaching. Faculty Focus.