First Teaching Experience

This afternoon I had my first experience actively teaching a class. It was in a discussion section for a neuroscience course, where I’ve been a teaching assistant (TA) for about half a semester. A few weeks ago, my teaching fellow (TF) and I were talking about observations for an education class I was taking with another TA, when he made the suggestion that we observe each other actively teaching. At the time, I had no idea how idea how nervous I would be in the days leading up to it.

It was only when I realized that I had to cover four different systems in 50 minutes that a mild nervousness began to set in. I suddenly began to doubt my memory of learning this material last year, when I took the same course as a student. It didn’t help that I had an exam the next day that I had spent all weekend studying for, or that I only received the questions to go over in the section the night before.

So when it finally came time to enter the classroom and begin, it was surprising how calm I felt. Perhaps I was just trying to hold it together and not let the nervousness show. Or perhaps I genuinely was calm. I can’t quite remember which one it was. But when I began to write on the board and talk to the students I had seen weekly for half a semester, it felt okay. The nervousness slowly subsided My TF had told me that most students who had done this felt incredibly nervous the first time, but in the end they did fine. Luckily, my experience was very similar.

I learned a few things from this first teaching experience. One was that I had to learn to be comfortable with silence. I don’t mean the silence that comes with being alone; I’m already pretty comfortable with that. I’m referring to the silence that settles over the classroom when you’ve just asked a question, and it feels like the entire class is waiting for an answer. The other thing I learned was that it’s okay to try things that ultimately don’t work. Learning is an iterative process, and mistakes allow room for growth and improvement.

My next section will be on Friday morning. While I don’t know how it will go, I have a feeling that in the end, no matter how nervous I may feel leading up to it, or how many awkward pauses I have to encounter, I will pull through. Hopefully, the students will be able to as well.


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