Teaching Through Meaningful Connections

Coming into Pitt my freshman year, I decided to take the Honors General Chemistry sequence of classes. It was taught by Dr. Eugene Wagner and had a lab component included with the course. Dr. Wagner quickly became my favorite professor at Pitt through his genuine passion for the information he taught, the interactions he had with his students, and the connections his students make in his class. When class moved online for Covid, Dr. Wagner transitioned really well and kept the same engagement, so when he asked me to help him make videos for the lab component for the upcoming fall 2020 semester, I gladly agreed. This arrangement resulted in me being an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant for the 2020-2021 school year. During this time I learned a lot about what it takes to help other students understand concepts and communicate ideas clearly. When I asked if I could work with him for this year, he agreed, and we worked together to come up with a project we thought would benefit everyone involved.

When looking back at my time transitioning between student and instructor, it was a very dramatic shift. Seeing the behind the scenes of what it takes to make a beneficial class opened my eyes to how many moving parts there are to ensure it goes smoothly. Going into this project, I felt like I didn’t have enough knowledge to be successful at teaching the content. There were parts of a lab report that I was not familiar with writing, so coming up with an interactive teaching style was going to be a challenge. As the semester progressed, Dr. Wagner helped me significantly to convey my ideas in a clear and concise way. I produced videos this semester and made myself available to the students through appointments which enabled me to talk with the students. This was different from my prior experience as a UTA for the course, where I worked directly with the students on all aspects of the course. Our next steps are to analyze the data we collected to determine the success of the curriculum, which will further my understanding of teaching and learning and interactions between students and instructors.

For students wanting to learn about teaching or learn more about what being a UTA may entail, my best advice is to talk to current undergraduate instructors. Many times, the undergraduate instructors have taken the course and have gone through any application processes for the UTA position. Additionally, choose and area of study you enjoy. It is definitely easier to teach content you enjoy than your least favorite subject. And finally, make connections with professors here at Pitt. The more connections you form, the more advice you can receive and the you can hear about teaching opportunities in your desired field.

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