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A narrative of my wonderful experience on the first day of school

It was in the Fall of 2010 — I had to teach integral calculus. I had taught before but it was always 2-3 students at a time. I had no experience of classroom teaching. So I was more than a little worried. My university had a pretty extensive TA training program which ran for an entire week. I attended all the workshops religiously, took notes, read and reread the TA manual. Still I found myself ill-prepared.

My First Semester of College Experience

With hindsight, my lack of confidence was pretty natural but at that point I was super-scared to face my students. Anyway, the appointed hour came and I had no choice but to go on.

I introduced myself, asked each one of them to do a brief introduction and got down to business. The students were well prepared — most of them had done AP calculus. The first day was a success. As the quarter went by I found the work more and more easygoing.

All I had to do was go to the class and do a bunch of integrals on the board. So I was lax and stopped preparing the homework problems beforehand. One day we were doing surfaces of revolution. I used to do them in a different way than it was taught in the text. The textbook is very formal — they set up the problem nicely and then solve it by following a specific algorithm.

To the credit of my students no one showed any sign of impatience in the meantime. I was halfway through writing and explaining my solution when someone politely asked for a clarification.

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Then it hit me — they are not following anything because I was doing this problem in a completely different method. I tried to make them understand but it was hopeless.

  • And as impossible as it seems, talking about Zayn's hair or Harry's tattoos all day every day gets old;
  • It was time to go to home;
  • I didn't know how to arrive to my classroom.

So I asked them just to copy it down for now and promised to come up with a better solution next time. I was feeling doubly uncomfortable because it was a day of observation by the TA mentor. It was a refuge for me — whenever I was stuck with differential geometry or algebra, I would think about the class I was teaching.

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It was very comforting to know that there is at least one class which I could ace. In the class I tried to give some additional resources on advanced materials, especially to students who would stay after the class or come to my office hours.

  • I was enrolled in a school at the age of five;
  • Kids talked about the fun they were going to experience at school;
  • The textbook is very formal — they set up the problem nicely and then solve it by following a specific algorithm;
  • Anita was very excited to share the wonderful experience of her first day at school with her Mom and Dad;
  • The boys looked at me with wonder and smiled.

My evaluations were mixed. Two major complaints were about my accent and my handwriting on the board. I am not a native speaker of English and four months is too little time to get my accent adjusted. So I knew it would create problems with at least some of the students. I learned a lot about teaching after this course.

In my view, teaching is like a performing art. No amount of reading or attending workshops will prepare you for the challenge. You only get better with practice. This entry was posted in Teaching and tagged Teaching.