Learning Through Teaching

This fellowship experience is not my first time working with Dr. Barry. In fact, I’ve been his TA twice before, once for this same class (Statics) and once for Introduction to Thermodynamics. Before ever working with Dr. Barry, I was his student in Statics and then again the following spring in both Thermo and Circuits. I asked him one day in Circuits (mostly as a joke) whether I could be a part of his group, to do both research and serve as a TA. Remarkably, he took me seriously and followed up with a whole bunch of research papers to read. And starting the following semester, I was working on research and was also a TA for Statics. And I guess he trusts me because I’m still around. 

For anyone interested in getting involved with teaching, there are tons of opportunities all around you. Every class you take that has a TA, by definition is an opportunity for you to later teach. In my case, I had a pretty good relationship with Dr. Barry before ever asking to join the group. I recommend that you get to know the professors who teach your most interesting classes. Because when you find a subject interesting it usually indicates two things: you may begin to specialize towards that field and you are likely to be passionate about teaching it to others. So if you feel yourself excited in class, reach out to the professor and just talk. Working with them as a TA can be a natural extension of building that relationship. 

Being a TA in general, without even being awarded a fellowship, is an extremely illuminating experience. The act of explaining concepts, regardless of their complexity, to other students serves to help me solidify my understanding and gives me insight into my own strengths and weaknesses. Because this is my fourth time as a TA, I already have a good sense of what strategies I can employ with students to help them understand better in lecture or in office hours, so this particular experience is just a continuation of that. But in developing supplementary content for this course, I gain experience thinking through our teaching framework. We often introduce concepts with simple examples and then increase complexity as students start to go through practice. 

Talking with Dr. Barry before publishing my content always reveals ways in which I can improve the next lesson. Sometimes it is a simple change like formatting images better. Sometimes it’s a more structural change that I have to strongly consider when developing the next chapter. But in each case, I learn about the ways in which my brain approaches solving problems and how to translate that into a language that my students can understand. And the entire semester, I try my best to develop good relationships with my students so they know that I’m not some big scary TA. At the end of the day, I’m also just a student who has good and bad days, goes through exams, deals with annoying assignments, and everything else. And I have found that if I can convey that while extending the support they need to succeed, they are more likely to accept help and develop better understanding as a result. 

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