How Co-op Changed My Perspective on Teaching – Haley Roberts

Blackboard with algebra problems written on it.

Since high school, teachers have warned me about university. They would tell me that when I get to university, no one will come to class with copies of the lecture notes for me, and they will just talk at me for an hour. Coming out of my first year of university, I would have to agree. They may not have stood at the front of the room just talking for an hour, but they made up for it in other ways. For the majority of my first eight months in university, I found myself sitting in a math class writing down numbers and symbols as quickly as I could until my hand hurt.Some professors stood with their back to the class and wrote the entire time, and some brought overhead slides jam-packed with writing. I found myself more focused on writing down what was on the board and the solution to that really hard assignment question than listening to what the professors were saying while they wrote. Eventually, I came to accept that I would spend the next four years perfecting my note taking skills rather than my math.

What I didn’t expect was what I would come to learn about teaching in my co-op work term. I have had the wonderful opportunity to spend four months with the Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE). Being with this department, I have not only learned things about the working life, but about university teaching. Each and every person at CTE has a passion for teaching and learning and they help faculty at the University of Waterloo explore alternatives to talking at their students for 50 minutes. I quickly learned that teaching is not standing in front of people, memorizing some facts and regurgitating them back. Teaching is helping people understand the who’s, the what’s, the why’s and the how’s. Teaching is definitely not one dimensional and it can happen in thousands of forms. From flipped classrooms and experiential learning to creating memorable lectures and classroom delivery skills, CTE is providing graduate students, faculty, and staff with workshops to help improve their teaching and their students’ learning.

After four months of watching in awe at how classes can be, I find myself wondering how I can avoid being talked at during the next term. Don’t get me wrong though, I did learn a lot of math, and not every class can be changed for the better, but every once in a while, it would be nice to try something new.