CUTF: Getting Involved in Teaching on Campus

Hi, everyone! Welcome to my second post of the semester!

I have many friends in the natural sciences who have served as undergraduate TAs before, and it was always something I was interested in doing as well. I did not know what form this could take in the areas of study I am pursuing as all of my TAs during my first few semesters were graduate students who contributed to the grading of work and overall instruction. In a course on Hamilton–the musical and the person–Dr. Lotz, my current mentor, had two undergraduate TAs, and I saw the role they were able to play even though they had not yet obtained a degree. After seeing that being a teaching assistant as an undergraduate was a possibility within political science, I went to Dr. Lotz, who is also my advisor, and asked him what the process would be. I told him that I wanted to TA for the class I was in at the time, Myth, Propaganda, and the State, and he said that would definitely be possible but would be heavily influenced by how my final project for the class, a content analysis, turned out. 

Thus, the main thing that I did in order to gain this amazing opportunity to be a TA was pour hours of time and lots of dedication into my project. I read over a hundred amicus curiae briefs, listened to hours of speeches, and spent time developing my coding system. This was my first experience in a real, in-depth research project, and I created a final product that I was very proud of. Throughout working on this project, I thought more about how I wanted to help to make this project, and the course overall, as interesting, manageable, and mentally challenging as possible for my peers. Dr. Lotz and I discussed this, and collaborated to plan how I could assist the course as a UTA. This all came to fruition because I had planted the seed a few weeks earlier, demonstrating my passion for the class and my interest in the position. From there, I executed a final project that showed my strengths as a student, and Dr. Lotz and I decided on my role for the class in the following school year. 

For other students who want teaching opportunities, the best advice that I can say is be open and communicative with your professors. I found this the best place to start when I knew I wanted to teach but did not know how. This is particularly true, I believe, in humanities fields where there may not be set UTA positions like there are for natural science classes. Even if you do not know the exact place to start, take the time to get to know your professors. Make a true effort to show them your dedication to learning and leadership. Find a class that you really enjoy, with a subject you are very passionate and knowledgeable about, and propose to the professor how you could benefit the overall course. I have found that many professors are very open to opportunities such as this, as they want their course to be as well-developed and supported as possible. In asking about teaching opportunities, you are offering yourself as a person to assist them in their job, which is appealing to both parties involved. The Honors College, along with specific schools and departments, also have great resources in their advisors who can assist interested students in this process, providing guidance along the way. 

The experience in moving from the role of a student to the role of a collaborator has been very interesting. I find myself enjoying the curriculum and content more now than I did as a student. I enter class every week with a different perspective than I did as a student; I focus more on material and diving into conversations with peers now as I do not have the stress of the workload of the course. I am not anxious about upcoming assignments or due dates in this course, which has allowed me to engage with the content much more. It is material I have digested before, so I do not have to put as much effort into grasping the simple components of the reading or concepts. Rather, I can spend more time thinking deeply about nuances to the material, making connections I had not previously. Prior to the start of this semester, I was concerned that I would not get anything new from the class in terms of my own education because I had already experienced it. This has definitely not been the case as there is an entire new set of peers with different beliefs and perspectives. Conversations about topics go in completely different directions this semester than they did when I was taking the course. 

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