I have just started teaching my first course as instructor of record (i.e. I’m lecturing, not TAing), and I thought that this would be a good opportunity to start an occasional series on teaching as a graduate student. What follows are my thoughts after finishing my first (and now second) week of teaching. I plan to write another post roughly mid-way through the semester, and another at the end. Additionally, there will be posts by other graduate students with different teaching experiences.
Preparation and Weeks One and Two.
I’ll be the first to admit that I had more opportunity to prepare for my first class than most grad students get. I spent last semester preparing a textbook (see here and here), attending workshops on the scholarship of teaching and learning, and flipped teaching strategies. This was all made possible by the Taylor Institute of Teaching and Learning. The idea was to put together an free and open source textbook for our Logic I course (the one I’m currently teaching), and to implement a partially flipped approach to that course.
Having a textbook that you’re extremely familiar with, that’s tailored to your course is awesome, and the cost is great for the students. Part of partially flipping the course though, means preparing screencasts, videos etc. for the course. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The first real task in preparing a course for the first time is of course putting together an outline and syllabus.
In itself, this isn’t that big of a deal, but doing it for the first time essentially meant it took a lot longer than I expected. The two major issues I ran into were figuring out how much material I needed to cover each week, and how to structure group-work in a fair and useful way. Logic I has to cover a fairly rigid amount of material — the semantics and proof theory of first-order classical logic through quantified predicate logic with identity, plus a little bit of metatheory. Trying to estimate how long I should and could spend on each topic was no easy task, though I had plenty of help and plenty of syllabi to look at.
Figuring out how best to implement group-work was harder, as part of the point is that this was new ground for this course in my department. I settled on 7 assignments worth 20% of final marks, implemented in such a way that the assignments could be finished across one class plus one tutorial. Of course this meant separating the students into groups based on their tutorial assignments. This turned out not to be so easy. Just getting my hands on their tutorial assignments was a bit of a struggle. This also means I can’t start graded group-work until week 3, after the add/drop deadline, though I think that is probably for the best anyway.
This brings me to another point. Logic I is a requirement or prerequisite for a lot of students, which means a lot of students asking to get into a class that already has 100 students. I could have put this together on my own, but I, umm…didn’t.
I’ve been pretty negative here, but I found that actually getting up in front of a class and teaching logic was easier than I expected. I was pretty relieved after my second day of teaching, though it wasn’t till week two that I was really starting to get comfortable. I also genuinely believe that the way I’ve structured the course is going to be great for the students, though possibly more labour-intensive for me.
After getting going I found my biggest problem was time management. Making slides is time-consuming, as is making homework assignments, but estimating how much material you’re going to get through in class is something that, at least for me, is just going to take practice. I’ve now taught 6 classes both over and underestimated a couple of times.
That’s probably enough for now. I’ll leave those of you looking forward to (or dreading) teaching for the first time with these thoughts – the actual teaching ain’t that bad, but don’t under-estimate the administrative workload at the beginning of the semester.
Though I’m aware that experiences are going to vary widely, I hope this is useful to some of you. I’ll be back with more later in the semester.