Monday, January 7, 2013

I swear, I'm actually a one-person cheer squad

Knowing that my teaching evaluations are sitting in my inbox back at work makes me nervous.  On one hand, I like getting them back.  I hope to genuinely learn from them so that I can improve my teaching.  I want to end up doing research but I also want to be a good professor someday.  I don't want to be one of those people who  is always hating on their students and doesn't seem to care if they give students the tools to succeed.  I am nervous that they will say I am awful but I don't think they will be.  I hope not!

The truth is that this semester was a real learning experience.  I had my first really independent sections.  I was in charge of 30 of my own "kids" and was trying to engage with them.  I tried to be a tough ass enough to convince them to listen to me as well as an approachable person that they could talk to.  It's a rough balance and, in the words of my advisor, "You don't know until you know."  Very helpful.  But she's right.  You don't know if you did right until you see the output.

When I finished that last class and they thanked me for my time, I was jaded enough to think that they were making it up.  I mean, we all brown nose in our lives.  But I also realized that, despite having some really incorrigible students, I would miss them and prayed that they were handing me a great final draft and would be studying as I had encouraged them to do for that final.  I was generally not disappointed when I got those final grades.

And, in those final office hours, it dawned on me that I was going to miss these kids like crazy.  Even the ones that had started off himming and hawwing about how their grades weren't their fault did really well.  Both my sections had a greater than 90% attendance average - the highest of all the TA's teaching.  That made me feel good.  I wish they would have come to lecture, but they wised up after a couple of them missed a couple of classes at the start.  I had a heart-to-heart with one bright but unmotivated student and he seemed to respect me.  He then came to class and showed up.  He cared.  In both of my classes, most students missed no class.  And I felt great about that!  They cared, right?

Most of my students improved.  And I hoped that was something THEY realized.  I said throughout the semester that improvement was my whole goal. Between their first and final drafts (the only ones that were technically graded) I wanted them to improve.  That's the effort I needed to see. And I tried to make it clear that I was working for them.  This semester, I was at a disadvantage.  My students had the first two lab sections and that meant the other TA's could learn from what didn't work in my labs and plan accordingly.  I didn't have that luxury.  They didn't have all week to do the readings like the rest of the course or to digest what they had learned in lecture.  Therefore, there was a time when I wrote them a research analysis tutorial, a tutorial on tables, and lobbied for an extended deadline with the supervising prof even though it gave me less time to grade papers.

I realize now that I want to be their cheerleader.  And while I told them that, they don't really always believe me, I think.  Even as an undergrad, I rarely got to know my TA's well enough to know when they were on my side.  There were a couple in the UK who always seemed to be deeply invested in the students but most of my classes were too large to have that relationship.  I got to know a couple of faculty members that well but sometimes it is much easier to relate to TA's.  I think they see that I am close to them in age and can listen to me.  It's a delicate balance, though.  I can't appear too "young" and manage to get the respect I need.  Still, I think I did okay.  I hope I did.  When I saw the final grades and vast improvement, I was on cloud nine.  My averages were better than expected.  My office-hour attending students did far better on their finals.

And the best part?  Getting emails before final grades were posted about how much they appreciated the extra office hours, meeting them at flexible times when they weren't working, and the tutorials and extra effort  was an amazing feeling.  Getting emails saying that they learned was by far the best part.  One said that they felt they were now a stronger, more confident writer.  I was speechless.  These weren't really brown-nosers. They knew I didn't figure final grades (even though, unbeknownst to them, I basically did) but they still said it.  I guess they did "get it".  At least some of them.  You can't save them all but getting positive feedback and results is what makes you know that  now "you know".


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