Beginning to Teach

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When I decided to come to Columbia, I told people that my long-term goal was to be a professor. Columbia’s student teaching program, where you take a crash course on pedagogical theory your first semester before teaching in your second, was very appealing. Shortly into the semester, I have not been disappointed in the least. As I’m writing this I have to admit I’ve been on a high from the successful class I had just about all day.

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I’m very, very glad I had the crash course first though. In a lot of MFA programs that have teaching, they kind of just throw students into it without any preparation outside of maybe a few day seminar on the subject. I can honestly say if I had started doing this last semester I don’t think I would have been very successful. There’s a lot more to teaching than I thought. Specifically, it’s tough to remember that these students are freshman pretty early in their college education. The subjects they need to be versed in and the way you need to structure things to make sure they don’t check out are totally different from upper-level undergraduate courses or graduate work.

I’m specifically teaching Writing and Rhetoric I, which is the first writing course students typically take at Columbia. The course is left pretty wide open. There are four course goals an instructor should cover and then three textbooks to choose from. I chose Best American Essays because I knew some of the writers in there were good and would keep me in a zone of things I’m comfortable talking about in relation to writing. So far students have enjoyed the essays.

It was kind of surreal the first day of class. As I got started, introduced myself, and went over the syllabus, everything felt pretty much as expected. Then I asked everyone to get their notebooks out because we were going to do a writing assignment. They did, and sat there, waiting for the prompt. I looked at my prompt and decided I didn’t like it, so I modified it slightly, read it aloud, and they started writing. That’s when I realized: I’m actually the teacher. This is really happening. How cool is that?