If my experience is any indication, teaching a course for the first time is a daunting prospect. My previous experience of being at the front of the classroom was limited to a few guest lectures in classes in which I was a Teaching Assistant. Co-teaching a history course in the fall of 2011 was something completely different. While excited at the opportunity to finally impart knowledge in a classroom setting, I was still uncertain of my teaching ability because of my limited experience. Thankfully, I discovered a program that eased my apprehensions and developed my teaching skills.
In the 2011 fall term, I participated in the Centre for Teaching Excellence’s [CTE] Teaching Café – an informal learning community for graduate students who were teaching for the first time. I found the CTE’s learning community to be immensely helpful in preparing me to co-teach my first course at the University of Waterloo.
There are many reasons why I was glad that I had decided to participate. Foremost among these was that I learned a considerable amount about classroom pedagogy and acquired many invaluable tips which I could bring to the classroom. I was able to develop my teaching skills and to gain knowledge of the latest trends in education.
My involvement in the Teaching Cafe also provided me with the opportunity to benefit from the teaching experiences of my peers. During each meeting we were able to relate our latest experiences in the classroom, which gave us the opportunity to provide advice to one another. We also benefited from the experiences of the group leaders who had taught classes in the past. One example that immediately comes to mind is the advice I received regarding the teaching evaluations that students fill out at the end of a course. Others in the group informed me of the importance of obtaining evaluations for future use as part of a teaching dossier. As a result, the professor I co-taught with accommodated my request to have students write two separate evaluations, so that I had one that was based solely on my teaching abilities. This is just one of the many ways in which I benefited from my experience in the Teaching Cafe.
One of the strengths of the group was that it included individuals from a wide variety of academic disciplines. This allowed members of the group the opportunity to discuss a wide range of teaching practices that were unique to their respective departments. It is rare within academia to have a forum in which one can hear from such a diverse range of perspectives. It is also uncommon to meet with peers who are experiencing similar challenges in teaching. As I was one of only a few who were teaching for the first time in my department in the fall of 2011, there were not many people I could turn to who shared my level of teaching experience. Thus, in many ways, the Teaching Cafe also served as a kind of support group for those of us who were teaching for the first time.
I would strongly encourage other first-time teachers to participate in the CTE’s Teaching Cafe. I am thankful that there was a program available that helped me to learn more about teaching at the university level. The Teaching Cafe provided me with the advice and support I was looking for as a first-time teacher. Most importantly, I believe that the students I was teaching benefited from the knowledge I gained through my participation in the CTE’s Teaching Cafe.
Matt Roth is a PhD student in the Department of History.