Me heading to my first day as a Graduate Teaching Assistant!
This semester I apprenticed as a teaching assistant with Dr. Laura Meyers in the course ECEE 3605, Media and Children's Learning. Through the course of Maymester I co-planned with Dr. Meyers and Courtney Hartnett, observed Dr. Meyers' instruction, evaluated students' work in class and online, and instructed students in class. I also spent time reflecting, It was a challenging and intense apprenticeship where I learned a great deal about myself as an educator and what it takes to plan and execute an undergraduate course in a compressed time frame.
In my introductory goal statement that I sent Dr. Meyers before beginning my apprenticeship, I outlined what I looked forward to. In that statement, I said "I’m looking forward to learning how an undergraduate class is designed, implemented and adapted to the students who take the class. I’m interested in gaining an understanding of how undergraduate students interpret and represent their thinking around issues of childhood and media literacy and the way they apply different theoretical frameworks to these topics."
Dr. Meyers leads students in a discussion of Socio-Political Theories
Dr. Meyers, Courtney and I met multiple times in March and April to prepare for the course. When it came time to begin, I was excited to meet the students and hear about what they were interested in learning. The students came from a variety of degree programs and professional backgrounds.
Our first week of class we reviewed several cognitive development theories and theorists such as Erikson, Bandura, Piaget and Bruner and in the second week we began to cover socio-cultural theories such as Queer Theory, Critical Race Theory, Feminist Theory and Socioeconomic/Class Theory. It was fascinating to see students grapple with these theories and apply them to various forms of media such as picture books, movies, television shows, video games and advertisements.
Students' Charts on the Socio-Cultural Theories we discussed in class and applied to various media genres.
When it came time for me to design and lead a class period I was anxious about planning and executing an entire 3 hour class. What I'd forgotten is that I'm an excellent teacher, and what I didn't realize was how the spirit of teaching remains constant no matter what age the student is. My experience as an early childhood educator came right back as I found my groove while leading discussions about documentary films we'd all watched.
A list of critical vocabulary words generated by students and instructors.
I kept a reflection journal that documented my day to day experiences as a Graduate Teaching Assistant. In addition to this personal reflection, several weeks after the end of the course, Dr. Meyers, Courtney and I met to review student evaluations, reflect on our experience and consider how to adapt what we learned from this course to other contexts.
In my reflection journal from the day I taught class, I wrote "I'm so glad that's over! I forgot how exhausting teaching is." I also wrote down my feedback from Dr. Meyers, which included "The student learning objectives were not specific enough for this lesson. How do you know if the objectives were met? You could provide a ticket out the door, do a think pair share, do some observation, or have informal mini conferences." In my mentor text I came across this statement from Ken Bain, which backed up my reflection and Dr. Meyers' feedback: "Our subjects use a much richer line of inquiry to design a class, lecture, discussion section, clerkship, or any other encounter with students, and they begin with questions about student learning objectives rather than about what the teacher will do" (2004, p. 17).
The most unexpectedly challenging (and therefore most useful) parts of my apprenticeship were the incredibly dense pace of Maymester, and evaluating student learning. Our course met three times a week for three weeks, which seemed perfectly reasonable until we began. In addition to the in-class commitment, I was surprised by how much time planning, reading, viewing and grading took outside of these class hours. It was a valuable reminder of just how much work goes into every class session and has helped me as a graduate student, giving me insight into the behind-the-scenes work of educating college students.
I struggled with how to evaluate students fairly. Courtney and I split the students' work between us and compared notes, but even with the small class size and shared workload I spent a great deal of time reading, thoughtfully providing feedback and communicating with students about their work. I wanted to be fair, but also to ensure that students were doing their best work and that they were really attempting to integrate the child development and critical theories we discussed in class.
I could see many students wrestling with feminism, critical race theory and queer theory as they watched both the cartoon (1991) and live action (2017) versions of Beauty and the Beast. In class, it was easier to tell which students had prepared for class and which hadn't, but I found evaluating their written work challenging. I wanted to be sure to be consistent and objective, but also wanted to be sure to take their in-class participation and representation of content into consideration whenever I evaluated their progress as learners. As Ken Bain notes in his book, "Students' conversations might help indicate how they were approaching the problems, but the professors would never rely on that evidence alone to make final assessments." (2004, p. 156-157).
Dr. Meyers recommended that I read Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do in support of my apprenticeship experience. The book was incredibly useful as I unpacked and digested my whirlwind Maymester experience and considered my future as an instructor in any context. Bain and his colleagues conducted a study in which they examined the teaching practices of "outstanding teachers" at the college level. Bain defines this as instructors who "achieved remarkable success in helping their students learn in ways that made a sustained, substantial, and positive influence on how those students think, act, and feel" (2004, p. 5). Bain's insight into the day to day and pedagogical practices and attitudes of highly engaging and effective professors was interesting and useful. Though the book is a little dated at this point it was a quick and enjoyable read and it put a nice cap on my apprenticeship experience.
- Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Hahn, D (Producer), & Trousdale, G. & Wise, K. (Directors). (1991). Beauty and the beast [Motion Picture]. United States: Walt Disney Pictures.
- Hoberman, D. & Lieberman, T. (Producers) & Condon, B. (Director). (2017) Beauty and the beast [Motiona Picture}. United States: Walt Disney Pictures.