Over the course of my CUTF experience, the most noticeable change in my understanding of teaching has been a new tendency to observe every class from the teaching perspective as well as the learning perspective. I briefly touched on this in my last post, where I mentioned that because I took “Harry Potter” as a student in Fall 2019, stepping back into the material in a new authority role allowed me to further understand not only the material (which I was of course already familiar with), but also the ways that Dr. C communicates that material to students. Being in the leadership position of UTA really prompted me to think more critically about conveying information, most especially when students reached out with questions—and yes, students did reach out! I put together an anonymous survey for students to leave feedback for me and my two fellow UTAs. Of the students who responded, 50% reported that they sought UTA help during the semester.
When responding to student questions/requests for feedback, I put a lot of thought into the best way to convey my answers. What I learned doing this is that giving productive feedback is an art! My goal was to guide students on how to improve their work while still allowing them to do the critical heavy lifting on their own. In other words, I had to resist the urge to simply say exactly what I would do if the assignment were mine, and instead carefully construct my advice to help the student without unintentionally spoon feeding them. If that sounds difficult… it’s because it is! However, I was very lucky to be able to UTA for “Harry Potter,” a class absolutely full of students with amazing ideas and insight, and to work under Dr. C, who has just about perfected the “productive feedback” balance. I was able to learn from her by observing as she answered student questions every day after class, and by engaging one-to-one with the students who came to me for help, I believe we were both able to learn from each other.
This new awareness of teaching methodology has bled over into my other classes, as I feel like I now have a better understanding of why my professors do things in certain ways as we progress through the semester material. I find myself more interested in and aware of why a syllabus is structured the way it is, and also often find myself thinking about how I would teach certain topics to a class. I honestly think that this understanding, combined with the extensive hands-on experience I was able to gain this semester, were the most valuable parts of the CUTF for me. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience this semester and I absolutely learned a lot from it. I feel much more confident in an authority role than I did at the beginning of the semester, and while I am sad to see this semester end, I know that the next time I teach, I will be able to enter into the experience feeling excited and prepared.
As far as what I hope to do next, well, lots of research is on the horizon! While Dr. C offered me another UTA role with her next semester, I decided to step away to focus on a different project. I am now in the process of expanding my Brackenridge project from this past summer, where I studied death and immortality in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, into a BPhil project. I plan to use the foundation I built during my Brackenridge to delve into a more specific analysis of the roles that mortal and immortal heroines play within Tolkien’s Legendarium.