My CUTF: “I open at the close”

Annabeth Collis

I open at the close …

It’s hard to believe that this semester is almost over. It seems like it was just a few weeks ago that I was drafting and writing my midterm analysis exemplar for my Harry Potter class. Since August, our class has covered a lot of material, including all of the Harry Potter books (and most of the movies), in addition to the other franchises associated with the original Harry Potter books (like the Fantastic Beasts movies and the Harry Potter inspired middle-grade series, Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow). As we’ve covered this content, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about teaching, on both technical and personal levels.

At the beginning of the semester, I had a general idea about how to run a class discussion. I had given class presentations before and was familiar with the kind of preparation that I needed to do to feel comfortable presenting/teaching material to a large group of people. But after teaching two lessons to the Harry Potter class this semester (one for my CUTF midterm project demonstration in September and one about an assigned course article at the end of November), I’ve gained a much greater awareness of how much work actually goes into teaching. As the UTA for this course, I learned that teaching involves planning, delivery, and improvisation. When planning a lesson, you start with an article, idea, or concept, and you have to identify the most important aspects of that concept. Once you have pulled out the important parts, you have to find the most effective way to communicate those ideas to someone else – someone who is less familiar with the material than you are. In many ways, teaching is a form of performance, and just like with any traditional type of performance, rehearsal is extremely helpful. After you plan a lesson, you have to deliver it to the class (and I’ve learned that this part particularly involves dealing with on the spot/day-of hitches that might force you to shift or change your course). Once you have hit all of the points that you hoped to get to, you have to engage with students and improvise. This semester, I’ve learned that a big part of effective teaching is listening. When leading a class discussion, what the students say is just as important (if not more) than what you say. Being a good teacher involves hearing what students are saying and then making them feel heard. As I’ve lead lessons this semester, I’ve realized how essential it is for a teacher to balance content delivery with keeping students engaged through discussion.

Caption: The title slide from my November presentation/lesson.

One of the things that I found most valuable about my CUTF experience was getting the chance to have an active role in teaching. Prior to being the UTA for this class, I had only ever lead group discussions from the student perspective. I was conscious about how I was performing, because I wanted to do well in the class, but I never had to operate or present from the perspective of being a model for the class. Becoming a UTA and doing the CUTF meant that I got to see what it actually feels like to be a “teacher” leading class discussion and not just a student. This experience was also invaluable for me because I got to relive and re-experience one of my favorite classes from the “other side” of the classroom. Initially learning the material as a student was a great experience, but there is even more joy in getting to teach others the material you love.

Caption: The discussion questions slide from my November presentation/lesson.

Now that the CUTF is over, I hope to continue my quest of learning more about education and figuring out if I am interested in pursuing teaching as a career. Next semester, I am taking my first education class at Pitt, so I am excited to learn more about what a teacher’s education is like. From here, I will use my CUTF and my academic experiences to inform my future decisions about work and graduate school.

I hope that the other fellows are getting through their finals, and that they have found this CUTF experience as rewarding as I have!

Mischief managed.

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