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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

ABC’s and PhD’s: Teaching again
March 27, 2013 - 4:00am

As of January it had been 15 years since I last taught a class. That was back when I was a student. This winter quarter (which just ended - a fast and furious ten weeks!), I jumped at an opportunity to teach an introductory biology lab at the university where my husband now works. Though a lot has changed in the world of lecturing, the lab was remarkably similar to the one I taught in graduate school.  I found it interesting that the biggest changes I noticed were the results of my own matured perspective:

  1. Grey hairs command respect.  Many of the students insist on calling me “Professor Campbell” even though I ask them to call me by my first name.  I sometimes inadvertently looked around to try to figure out who they are talking to - Prof. Campbell?  Oh, that’s me.  When I was a grad student, students often had trouble telling I was not a fellow undergrad. I found my interaction with students more comfortable now that I am an older adult; maybe (even if it’s not true) they have a sense that I’m old enough to have something to teach them.
  2. I’m better able to sort through papers and figure out how to be consistent with grading.  It’s hard, and I don’t like grading at all, but somehow I’m better and more patient at working through it.  By the way, reading through lab reports this quarter really drove home to me how important it is to be able to write well. I was able to give my students who could write well far more substantial feedback on concepts and ideas than those with whom I had to spend huge amounts of time wading through their work just to figure out what they were trying to say. The better writers got a far better deal in this class!  I want my own kids to be able to write well when they get to college.
  3. I’m more confident in working with belligerent students - I had one this quarter who came late to every lab and then demanded my time to help him catch up.  He also wanted me explain every point he missed on every assignment.  I did not allow him to take up the time of other students.  If he had been as student in my class 15 years ago, he would have gotten away with a lot more from me.
  4. I have accumulated more stories to tell than when I was teaching as a student.  I found my students dig life experience (well, when it’s relevant). I talked about my kids, who are great fodder for stories as they naturally bridge the biology I do at home with the biology in lab.  I talked about research projects I’ve done. And I talked about my peers in grad school, who are grown-up scientists now - it’s fun to be able to tell personal stories about real scientists.
  5. I realize how much I enjoy working one-on-one and in small groups with students, interacting with them individually rather than talking to them from the front of the room. When I was at the board one morning explaining Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium (a notoriously difficult concept for students to grasp and somewhat math intensive), I saw my students’ eyes glassing over so I quickly found a stopping spot. “Well, I’ll stop there,” I said, and I told them about what my daughter had said the night before when she saw me preparing my teaching notes: “Ack!  Mom, all those equations look intensely boring!” Then she sweetly but non-convincingly tacked on, “Oh but I’m sure once you get past all the blah-blah-blah it’s very interesting.”  I like the luxury to be able to shorten the blah-blah-blah and let discussion during lab exercises take over as a far more enjoyable learning strategy to listening to me talk. I feel better prepared and more confident in leaving the security of a prepared presentation to branch out into less controlled discussions than I did when I was a student.

I’d definitely say I’m more comfortable as an instructor now despite the fact it’s been so long since I last taught. I’m looking forward to teaching again in future quarters. But I’ll stop my blah-blah-blah for now.


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