My CUTF: Changes in Myself

My CUTF experience this semester brought me a whole new perspective on teaching and the work that goes into it. There were things I already anticipated doing going into this experience–such as providing feedback, adding to class discussions, etc. as these are the things most teaching assistants do inside and outside the classroom. My most valuable experience though was the opportunity to teach a lecture on my design. At first, I thought, of course, that’s fine, I’ve presented projects and presentations in my classes, extracurriculars, and even in my work as a Resident Assistant. Certainly, I’d had plenty of practice speaking and teaching in this manner. Yet as I walked into the role of teaching assistant and began prepping for my own lecture, I started to notice how incredibly different it really was when a professor teaches and when an undergraduate student presents. I took note of the particular, almost formulaic manner that the lectures both of Dr. Lotz in Political Theory and the Future as well as my other professors. Over the weeks, I began to unravel patterns that constitute successful teaching. For example, one of the first things I noticed was deliberate pauses, beyond just waiting for students to answer questions, I noticed that Dr. Lotz and many other professors would take moments to let critical points sink in for students. Furthermore, the way professors responded to student answers was critical–whether it was tactfully working with a point that didn’t quite fit to steer the class in the right direction, giving room for students to dissent to the majority opinion, or taking the incredible thoughts and ideas many Pitt students have and building upon them. The way that professors utilize such strategies drastically changes the tone of the classroom, and so I knew going into my lecture that I needed to develop a style for myself. This was the hardest task that I’ve faced possibly in the entirety of my academic career. The question of “what kind of teacher do I want to be” begs another question of “who am I?” I spent a lot of time pondering how I wanted to speak, provide questions, and respond to answers. Yet the day of the lecture I gave–I woke up, and I was scared. Absolutely petrified. I spent the morning going over my presentation and the notes I had taken throughout the semester on teaching. My friends gave me pep talks, I tried to calm down, and I did just about everything I could have done. But when I stood up in front of the class, I fumbled the beginning with technical issues and nervousness. Every important note I made for myself left my brain, and I simply had to rely on instinct. It’s not that I was a natural, I certainly wasn’t. However, looking back and recalling what I said I can tell how much my deliberate observing helped in combination with my natural self. My topic was about gender and automation, and the times I felt most secure were when I was saying thoughts and opinions like those I share with my friends. But the times I felt most successful over the course of the class was when I was responding to students. Getting the class to flow smoothly, combining ideas, progressing through the topic felt so vague until I was actually standing there. It was absolutely the most valuable experience I had in the CUTF project and I learned new skills and built confidence that only teaching in that manner could provide. Although I don’t plan on teaching in the near future or becoming a professor myself. I feel more confident in my next steps. I’ve spent the last weeks of the semester reflecting on the CUTF experience while working on applications to law school. What I’ve built is confidence and the ability to bring others to understand my ideas, knowledge, and feelings. I could show you my personal statement from before CUTF and now, and the difference shows. The proof is in the changes to myself.

Leave a Reply