Now that we have reached the (approximate) midpoint of this semester, I have been able to reflect on my CUTF experience thus far and think about what direction I’m headed in for the rest of this fall term.
So far, I have had a really amazing experience working with Dr. Campbell-Tanner in her ENGLIT 0647 Harry Potter: Blood, Power, Culture class. Although I had spoken to Dr. Campbell a few times throughout my first year of college for advising purposes, taking Dr. Campbell’s Harry Potter class during my second year at Pitt really allowed me to familiarize myself with her teaching style and the engaging, productive discussions of this course. When Dr. Campbell asked me this past spring if I would like to be the UTA for Harry Potter, I was extremely excited to get to revisit the course texts and to approach the course content not just from the point of view of a student but also from the point of view of a teacher. My involvement with the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship naturally sprung from Dr. Campbell and my plans for this fall semester. As her UTA, I would be thoroughly involved with the midterm project (creating an example presentation, giving a demonstration in class, fielding student questions and giving advice on possible midterm topics). Because of the extended nature of my midterm responsibilities, Dr. Campbell and I thought my work as a UTA aligned well with the scope and aim of the CUTF. From here, we worked on a proposal for my project, and I began the planning process for my example literary analysis and multi-media presentation.
Taking Dr. Campbell’s classes has been one of the most (if not the most) rewarding experiences I’ve had at Pitt. As a student, I have always appreciated the breadth of topics that Dr. Campbell incorporates into her classes. In her courses, Dr. Campbell ties in topics like gender studies, race, religion, activism, fandom, commerce, and fantasy tradition with the core course texts we read. As a UTA, I appreciate how welcoming and inclusive Dr. Campbell is. In every class meeting, Dr. Campbell goes out of her way to ensure that every student feels heard, and she utilizes technology to offer students a myriad of ways to participate in class discussions. If other students are looking to connect with faculty and engage with teaching opportunities on campus, I would suggest reaching out to any professors that they have loved learning from. If a student loves the course material from a specific class, becoming a UTA for a class they are passionate about with a professor who they respect could be a great opportunity to learn more about what education at the collegiate level is like.
As I’ve moved from the role of student to the role of collaborator/instructor with my faculty mentor, I’ve noticed that the main difference I’ve experienced is what I pay attention to in class. When I was a student in Dr. Campbell’s Harry Potter class, I was solely focused on the course material: the readings, the lectures, and where I could fit myself into the in-class discussions. Now, as a UTA, I am paying more attention to the technical aspects of the class: noticing how Dr. Campbell moderates the discussions and transitions from each of the different student responses, monitoring which students are engaged during class, watching for questions students may have, and trying to communicate information to the students clearly. One of my biggest concerns at the beginning of the project was knowing how to respond to student questions, but my frequent communication with Dr. Campbell makes me feel like I’m always prepared and equipped with the right information to tell students.
In terms of advice that I’d give to a student who wants to learn more about teaching, I would say that students interested in education should start by paying attention to what they like about their favorite professors. Even if someone is not directly involved in a UTA/equivalent teaching role, he or she can still learn a lot just from observing what other professors do during class. In addition to keeping track of what your favorite professors are doing well, question why you find yourself disagreeing with some of the things other professors do. As a student observer, you can track in real time what you think are effective teaching strategies and what you think might not be the best educational methods. Additionally, I would again advise that students interested in education reach out to their favorite professors and ask directly about teaching opportunities. Even if a student isn’t able to teach alongside one of their previous professors, sitting down for an information interview about what teaching is like at the college level can be just as informative and can be very helpful for making plans for graduate school.
I’m excited to get to the second half of the Harry Potter books in class, but I’m also sad that the semester is passing so quickly! I hope that the other fellows are enjoying their projects too!