As a candidate in the Creative Writing-Nonfiction program, I was offered the chance to take a Theory and Praxis course that prepared me to teach, as a Graduate Student Instructor, in the English Department. GSIs have the opportunity to teach Writing and Rhetoric I and eventually Writing and Rhetoric II, which are building block writing courses that all Columbia undergraduates must take. Nothing can fully prepare you for what it’s like inside the classroom, but this class does offer strategies for grading student papers, chances for professional development, and it will basically blow your mind when it comes to the current pedagogical struggles and debates that you will face as a First-Year Writing Instructor and later on in your teaching career.
During the course of a semester, I developed a Teaching Philosophy, Syllabus, Grading Rubric and a conference-length Academic Argument. I was also able to observe several classes, taught by both new GSIs and more experienced professors. Most MFA programs do not allow you to do this before teaching—you just go right into the classroom—with no training and probably with a whole lot of nerves. That’s not to say that a training course calms all nerves (it most certainly does not) and perhaps, for some, teaching right away is the better option. For me, this class provided practice, support, and knowledge that I would not have had if I had just walked right into my own classroom. The work that I produced while taking Theory and Praxis is changing as I gain more experience and will continue to change as I continue to teach, but I feel that this class definitely gave me a jumping off point for teaching here at Columbia and wherever I may teach in the future.[flickr id=”6209448509″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”center”]
My teaching toolkit is continually being updated, because Columbia offers so many professional development classes, even once you are teaching, for new and experienced teachers. Over the summer, one of my classmates took a Moodle class (software that allows teachers to post assignments, grades, etc., essentially acting as a virtual classroom) and was able to build her online classroom while getting paid a stipend to learn how to build it. Columbia offers a tremendous amount of opportunities for professional development and support through various departments housed under the umbrella of the Academic Affairs Offices, like The Center for Instructional Technology (CIT) and the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE).
Additionally, as instructors, we have the added resource of being able to offer our students the resource of the Learning Studio, which houses The Writing Center. For my students, it is mandatory to make at least one appointment with The Writing Center during the semester (and I know that several of my colleagues require this as well), because it’s an excellent free resource that allows students to evaluate and to find strength and purpose in their writing. And heck, I’ve used the service myself.[flickr id=”6209963906″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]
I’m in my second semester of teaching, and I’m really enjoying the experience. As you can see from my pictures, office space at my apartment is limited, but I make it work. There’s a certain amount of freedom at Columbia as a Graduate Student Instructor. We build our own syllabi, make our own lesson plans, and just in case, if we need it, there’s a strong support system helping us out along the way.
Now if I could just find someone to grade all of these papers…