To Grow and Learn, to Teach in Turn

To Grow and Learn, to Teach in Turn

My cute, but largely unhelpful FTA (Feline Teaching Assistant)

I’ve been accused countless times in my life of dreaming too big, having too many passions, and doing too much. Well, what can I say? Guilty as charged.

One of the absolute best things about attending Columbia is the fact that our instructors are all accomplished practitioners and industry movers and shakers in their own right. They’re out there innovating, creating new work, and succeeding in their creative practices, while at the same time passing those vital skills and that industry knowledge on to their students. Our academic landscape is so rich and potent because our instructors aren’t forced into choosing between teaching and their practice. The fact that we have a faculty so dedicated to sustaining both makes for a diverse, exciting, and nourishing learning environment, just brimming with invaluable insights, practical knowledge, and incredible opportunities.

I want to be a part of that.

Education has always been a passion of mine, and it’s something I’ve had many opportunities to explore and practice in various contexts throughout my career, but less so in a formal, academic format until starting grad school. Since my first semester in the MAM program, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to serve as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for Columbia’s “Big Chicago” freshman first semester experience courses, as well as holding GTA positions in both the Dance Department and my home department, Business and Entrepreneurship. My mentor instructors in these courses have taught me so much about being both a successful working professional and an effective, motivational educator. The GTA program is an outstanding opportunity for grad students in all departments. Not only does it provide an opportunity for graduate students to work on campus and make a little extra scratch, but it gives anyone interested in pursuing a teaching career hands-on experience in course development, classroom management, and student engagement. 

Since beginning grad school, I’ve had the joy of assisting in classes totaling nearly 600 students altogether. In speaking to people who have worked as teaching assistants at other institutions, I’ve realized just how lucky I am. Many GTAs only get to be tangentially involved in the classroom and function in a largely administrative capacity, while I’ve had the chance to be intimately involved in the courses I’ve worked with, collaborating closely with both the instructors and my fellow GTAs to shape the student experience and in several cases, even being able to present my own course content, weaving my own knowledge and professional experience into the fabric of the curriculum.

In addition to the on-the-job learning experience I’ve gotten as a GTA, I’ve also had the privilege of being able to take Teaching Methods and Pedagogies, a class available to all graduate students. There are two sections; one geared toward writing courses, and one geared toward fine arts courses. Both, however, are available to students in any program, and the skills are highly transferable. In this course, we learn about different philosophies and approaches to instruction, course development, grading, classroom communication, and anything else one might need in order to effectively run an undergraduate classroom. I’ve learned so much from the assigned readings and our exciting class discussions, but more than that, the course focuses on developing one’s own teaching philosophy and building a unique, impactful curriculum in one’s own discipline. The culminating project for this class is to create a full teaching packet that includes your teaching philosophy statement, a complete syllabus, lesson plans, etc. The course guides you in assembling everything one would need to propose a class to a school for consideration.

A peek at a recent presentation I did. Image credits: Sainteven Photography & Insomniac Studios

As part of my work for Pedagogies and Teaching Methods as well as one of my other classes, Project Management, I’ve spent this semester developing a course surrounding the rich and fascinating history and culture of sex work, sexuality, and adult entertainment in Chicago, and it’s been incredibly rewarding! Beyond simply creating this curriculum, I’ve also been fortunate enough to be able to test drive some of the course content with my students in recent weeks, with great success so far. I’m also working on fleshing out a full proposal to pitch this course to teach at the undergraduate level in the future (at Columbia, if I’m lucky!). Adding this labor of love to my body of work has been so affirming and motivational, and it’s already led to some exciting conversations and opportunities. I can’t wait to see where it takes me!

The future isn’t something we’re waiting for. It’s something we’re creating. Let’s do this!