Because I am a Teaching Assistant (TA), I have to take the required course that all TAs take. As part of this course, the instructors emailed us an assignment to complete before Orientation.
The assignment is a reflection where we have to think about a teacher or an experience in a classroom that influenced us as students in either college or high school and which might also influence us as teachers. The instructors asked us to end the reflection by thinking about how these experiences might influence our roles in the classroom, our teaching goals, and our interactions with students. When I first read the assignment description, I didn’t know what to write. At first, the assignment sounded like the instructors wanted us to write about someone or something from either high school or college that inspired us to pursue teaching. Yet upon re-reading the assignment, I better understand what the instructors are looking for. They want us to reflect when we were student writers and to think about a person or an experience that influenced us and perhaps influenced our interest in teaching. And so, here is what I have been throwing around so far:
I’m a shy person. In high school, I was at my peak shyness. I was afraid to express my thoughts out loud, to participate in class discussions unless called on by the teacher. More than that, I was afraid that my ideas, my literary interpretations, did not measure up; I would wait with intense anxiety to receive a graded essay, praying that the teacher would give me a passing grade.
In college, that anxiety continued as I tacked assignments with a looming uncertainty regarding how they would be graded. During my second year of college, I took a course entitled Recent American Fiction with a professor whose reviews on “Rate My Professor” indicated that she was a tough grader. As the course progressed, however, I found the professor was less a tough grader and more a gentle facilitator of discussion. She was more concerned with what ideas her students had about the text instead of if they had a fully, grammatically correct paper.
One of the texts I read as part of the course was Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, an electronic retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I had always been interested in monstrous literature, but my classmates in high school did not share my interest in monsters; I quickly learned that openly expressing an interest in monstrous literature would garner alienating stares, the result of which caused me to keep my interest in the genre quiet. Yet, here I was in a college classroom, being required to read a text that coincided with my interest. I wrote a paper exploring the idea of self through monstrosity in Patchwork Girl which not only received an “A” but acceptance into a conference.
Taking that class and writing that essay allowed me to more openly explore my areas of interest. When it came time to write my Honors Thesis, my thesis mentor, having had me in his English Ghost Story course, understood my interest in monstrous literature and encouraged me to pursue a topic on that. So, what did I write about? Vampires, of course.
Investigating a popular culture topic through an academic lens abated my previous anxiety regarding being a student writer. More than encouraging my ideas, my thesis mentor created an environment that was both nurturing to my ideas as well as accepting of my growth as a writer; growth that included several different drafts and at times irrelevant and erroneous ideas. What my thesis mentor, and my Recent American Fiction professor for that matter, did not do: make me feel like my ideas were inadequate.
When I graduated from college, I entered into the Education field where I was taught by a different type of instructor: students. Working with students, I was reminded of my college experiences as a student writer. Students might not want to talk in the classroom, but they do want to be listened to. As a student writer, I wanted my teachers to hear what I was interested in; I was lucky enough to have professors who did just that and were able to steer me in a direction where I took those interests and elevated them to an academic level. As a teacher, I want my students to share what they’re interested in; to do so, it is always my goal to get to know my students. More importantly, I want to foster an environment in my classroom where students are comfortable expressing their ideas and consequently become more critical thinkers.
What do you think? Would you say I completed the assignment? (I said the anxiety about being graded had abated, not disappeared)