Graduate school is a long road. Unlike most of my friends who graduated from college and went to work, I've spent the last several years in this extended apprenticeship that sometimes seems like it will never end. Unlike my friends who finished medical school, I don't have a title that says I'm competent. Unlike my friends who spent three years in law school, I'm not making six figures a year. The reward of graduate school is a far-off goal reached only after jumping through what seems like an interminable series of hoops, following a road that sometimes feels more like a dirt track through the Congolese jungle.
My goal in trying to finish a PhD is to teach at the college level. It's what I'm good at, and it's what I believe I'm meant to do. I enjoy my research, but I love teaching. I love helping college students learn, and I love watching them discover how their gifts and talents fit in with the world's great needs. Yesterday I sat with a student I'll be advising next year as she attempts to gain admission to graduate school and just marveled at her enthusiasm, commitment, and evident brilliance. Even though I sometimes hate my dissertation, I love my job.
This long path has given me so many fantastic opportunities to develop teaching skills. In college, I worked as a grader, learning how to evaluate student work fairly and efficiently. At Yale, I taught discussion sections for the first time. Yale being Yale, they were small classes, so I could learn every student's name, and the professor being wonderful, she helped us plan our weekly lessons. Because of her dedication and thanks to a couple of teaching workshops provided by the graduate school, I learned how to guide a discussion, how to ask questions that get students to make connections, and how to not fear silence in the classroom.
At UT, I was lucky to be offered the chance to teach SI discussion sections my first semester as a TA. SI is a content-based program that helps students develop study strategies, and the training and resources offered by the program developed my teaching skills even more, as did taking formal and informal courses on learning styles and other issues. I've also TA-ed in huge lecture classes, watching good professors deliver excellent lectures while taking notes on ways to emulate their methods. This year, I started teaching my own classes for the first time at another small, private, local university. The classes there are small and the students are patient with my attempts at learning how to lecture. It's great.
This isn't to brag; it's just to say how thankful I am to have had these opportunities to build skills over time. Today I got the news that I will be teaching my own lecture class at UT this fall. This opportunity is one of the reasons I came to UT, and it has been my goal for the last five years. The long road to a PhD winds and twists and gets bumpy sometimes, but on days like today, I'm sure that it's leading somewhere. Today the road is smooth and the sky is blue. And for that, I am grateful.
Labels: academic life