I began working with my mentor, Gretchen Bender, this past spring as a research assistant in the development of the class for which I am now a teaching assistant, HAA 1025: Museums: Society and Inclusion?. As we worked to refine the course, we had no idea that it would be taught remotely in a very different format than we imagined. I worked with Professor Bender at the end of last semester to develop a project that would help make this transition from in-person to virtual engagement a bit easier for students. I was particularly interested in the modules that I had helped develop on the topic of public space and citizenship in the museum, and I wanted to continue working through this material with students. This teaching fellowship gave me the opportunity to follow the course from development to implementation. Based on my own experience, I would advise other students to look to work they might already be doing with faculty and imagine how existing work might transform into a teaching opportunity.
As a teaching fellow, it feels like I take up a liminal space between the role of a student and the role of an instructor. At the beginning of the semester, I had apprehensions about existing in this undefined middle ground, but it has actually been a great asset in working with students. I help lead discussion, but because I am not officially a faculty member, students often feel more open in sharing their own difficulties with the course.
For someone who wants to learn more about teaching but might not know where to start, I would suggest thinking about your own experience as a student. Especially during this new kind of semester, as someone in a teaching role, I’ve been looking a lot to the students in my course to see what they want our time together to look like. It’s also been really eye-opening to work through (and leave behind) normative patterns of teaching that have been employed in the past. For example, is it really necessary for students to deep-read every single reading posted to Canvas each week? What kinds of labor are productive for both instructors and for students? There are other ways to engage with course material than just producing a piece of writing. This semester, the primary way that I’ve learned about teaching has been through interacting with students and questioning academic and pedagogical norms.
A screenshot of the street view of the British Museum in London, available through Google Arts and Culture. In recent weeks, we’ve discussed the benefits and challenges of virtual museum experiences such as this.