Some reflections on teaching

This is the semester of many firsts — co-leading workshops through my position as GCDF and teaching as an adjunct. I’m new to these positions and was really learning from those who came before while trying to assume to role of an instructor. There was definitely a lot of flubbing about as I piece together resources for myself and my participants/class.

Co-leading a workshop

I began the semester with teaching and supporting workshops at the Digital Research Institute (DRI). It was my first time as a co-instructor and that experience has been quite the learning curve for myself. I was tasked with co-leading the workshop on ethics and R.Since I was offered the GCDF role, I knew I wanted to discuss ethics in the annual institute. Taking cue from SICSS from last summer, I appreciate that ethics was in the forefront of the institute as it helped in framing the subsequent discussions in the workshops. While ethics has sometimes been regarded as an afterthought and a hassle to deal with (e.g. IRB), I wanted it to be present in the beginning since I think it is fundamental to the work I do (and hopefully what everyone does). “Teaching” ethics was also really challenging because what does it mean to “teach” ethics? Everyone has different ethical concerns and perspectives and the goal wasn’t to impart mine or claim that my way was “right.” Really, what I wanted was for my workshop to mostly be discussion based because of the variety of views that I know the group had. I wanted to also move away from “common sense” assumptions and bring in some more real-life considerations for the choices we make. These are goals I had for my workshop and while I hoped that it was passed onto the participants who attended, I know that future versions of this workshop requires deeper considerations and perhaps a little more structure.

The other workshops I co-led was R. I learnt R in a way that was quite painful. Thrown in the middle of learning statistics, learning R programming while completing assignments and exams was really tedious and made it hard to understand the language in a way that made sense to me. When I was asked to co-lead the workshop, I was really nervous — I didn’t think I was able to “teach” something I had learnt so haphazardly. Hence, in structuring the lessons and discussion with my fellow co-lead, the goal was really to avoid my painful “lessons” in hopes of demonstrating the possibilities of R in folx who are interested in the language. Connor really was the lead for the creation of most of the content and a wonderful person and resource for the materials. As I began to piece together the primary draft, the gaps of my knowledge and skills became obvious. Learning where these are was really helpful and provided me with a little more assurance and confidence about what I do know and am able to teach. Through teaching and supporting the R workshops in DRI, I also learnt the importance of pacing and accommodating for different levels of experiences. It was hard to resist going faster for those who were able to understand the material quickly and it’s something I am learning to be more aware of.

Teaching as an adjunct

This semester is also the first time I have officially taught a class within my field of psychology. Being the, I believe, only new adjunct this semester, there was a lot of expectations within the department that folx already knew where to go and what they were doing. I had to rely heavily on Rieke’s previous experiences and knowledge to help with orienting myself around the campus and the administrative structures. This is why orientation is important (even if I had previously snuffed at orientation workshops)! My class also has an enrollment of 50 students, which is a fairly large class, especially for someone doing it the first time. I wasn’t sure how to prep for class and really relied (again) on folx who had came before me. I didn’t know preparation for class took as long as it did (10 hours! for a 4 hour class) and was learning it as I began my teaching. After a conversation with my mentor from undergrad, she concluded that I was trying to correct all the negative past experiences I had in classes and channel it into my teaching pedagogy. I think that is true, but I think in doing so, I may have placed less emphasis for my students’ expectations and culture within their own learning experiences.

This is my first semester teaching and I am learning about the gaps between what I can do and what I hope to do. As an undergrad, I wanted my social psych 101 class to be a little bit more like my critical gender studies class, and I created my semester with that in mind. I see the traps for repeating negative learning experiences because it is so much easier and I find myself dipping into them when I’m exhausted. Standing in front of the room and lecturing is easier than actually trying out different ways of learning and knowledge production. I am learning to be honest with myself about my own limitations and expectations and to practice radical honesty with the class. As I am still learning and figuring out what my teaching pedagogy is, at the very minimal, I wanted to frame my teaching as coming from a particular perspective, influenced by my social positioning and shaped by their (and institutional) expectations.

Some other concluding thoughts

In addition to these firsts, the transition to remote learning due to COVID-19 has also resulted in a lot of scrapping together resources that is helpful to my students as well as myself. In some ways, because of this transition, there is a hyper awareness of students and faculty learning together. During the transitional period, no one (really) has an answer or expectation. This made it a little easier on my part to formalize a transition and allow myself flexibility with how the material is taught and  the changes I have to make for my students ability to learn. While I am more concerned about their mental and physical health and safety, I do find myself at a lost with expectations for assignments. What is the most helpful and how do I support those whose priorities are no longer school? What is the appropriate compromise? These are questions I am asking myself with increasing frequency.

Despite the many firsts, I think I really do enjoy the experience of teaching. It really does feel meaningful and something that is fulfilling. Recording my reflections of my first experiences here will serve as a reminder of where I was/am and how I can continue to grow.