Monday, September 19, 2011

Atua Bear With a Quick and Early Thirsty.

Q: I'm entering a doctoral program this fall, and praying that after I do a TAship (start in 2nd year) that I may enjoy teaching (even with all the misery). But, as of now, I know nothing about how to teach because I haven't taught jack squat. How can you like something you've never done?!

When did you realize you wanted to teach for a career? Before you entered grad school or after your first TAship? Or, at another time?


  1. Good (entirely non-sarcastic) luck! That's what I'm doing right now. Teaching was just something I was always going to do, even when I was going to be a music major (that didn't work AT ALL). When I switched majors to English, teaching kind of came with me.

    A TA program is awesome, because if they're any good, they'll hold your hand through the process so you'll learn how to teach in a supportive community of other brand-new teachers. And it's got to be better than how I did it first--thrown into adjuncting right out of my Master's program when the most teaching I'd ever done was in the writing center.

  2. Teaching was the only thing my degree is good for. I never had illusions about it being wonderful.

  3. I come from a family with a lot of teachers, from Kindergarten teachers to a college professor. I didn't always want to teach, but it was always there as a possibility. I even took Secondary Ed classes in college, but hated teaching High School as a student teacher so scapped that idea.

    As a grad student I enjoyed TAing, although it was a rough transition and I was truly awful the first year or two. When I left grad school to take a job offer (promising to finish my degree working at nights and weekends!) I thought I'd never be back in the classroom. Then when I started my outside career, lo and behold, I ended up teaching internal classes for adults and loved it.

    Basically, don't judge teaching from your initial experiences. Give it some time and see if you find parts of it you like. Find a mentor (either a prof or another TA) to help you. Good luck.

    * and I did, though it took me a long time to finish.

  4. I still don't really want to teach... but I love reading and writing and creating art, so might as well get paid for doing that for three months in the summer (paid, I might add). Plus, I'm not sure who else would hire a PhD in English...

    I'm curious: Why go into a PhD program if you don't want to teach??? The only fields that require a PhD seem to be research or teaching higher ed.

    Seriously, good luck as you decide. I'm guessing if you're doing a PhD there must be SOME sense of wanting to stay in higher ed.

  5. What I realized was that I didn't want to ONLY teach for a career; I wanted to research and write. I was lucky to cut my teeth on good students in small seminars that I designed myself, so I liked teaching from the start, even though I was fraught with the usual anxieties. However, if I'd started as a TA or with large or required courses I didn't design, I might have felt differently.

    I guess what I am saying is that "liking teaching" depends very much on the teaching situation you are given, so don't assume you are doomed if the TAship is less than fun.

  6. As an undergrad, I started out as an education major (elementary/Deaf ed) but changed to my current area of study with no intentions of ever teaching.

    When I started grad school, I didn't know what I wanted to do - teaching or research. I got a TA (much easier to get than an RA) and figured I could handle it. I HATED it. After my first semester I swore I would never ever do it again. But I had to - I had to TA all four semesters to keep my stipend. So I did. And it grew on me - I got better at what I was doing, got more confident that I did actually knew more than the snowflakes, and truly started to enjoy it. Now (10+ years later) I can't imagine doing anything else - misery and all.

  7. I fell into teaching, I didn't start wanting to do it. I don't like children. I find that I like the teaching, I even like some of the students. I don't like the administration or their b$&@%*+#^.

  8. Bailout!

    Some parts of the economy may be better in 3-7 years (auto repair, DOD contracts (if the republicans win), linguists to interpret whomever we've pissed off next).

    Teaching will not be. There are too many PhDs wishing to be teachers right now, more following them than a healthy market could eat, and a likely contraction in the education industry coming.

    You will not find a good job. You will not like (or be valued by) the job you find.

    Get an MBA or a professional degree, go into industry, and come back in a few years if you want to teach. You can pick up some classes on the side as an adjunct (probably paid better with "street cred") if you want to know if you like it. If you do like it, it won't be to late to change your mind.

    It will be too late if you continue on course.

  9. I started teaching (as a TA) in my second year of doctoral studies, and absolutely hated it. I was terrified and unprepared with little pedagogical training and little systematic background in the discipline, and yet was expected to do nearly all of the work usually involved in actually teaching a course (creating assignments and quizzes, lesson plans, lecturing, grading, etc). Scary!

    It gets a little easier every year and, while I can't quite say I 'enjoy' it yet (it still terrifies me every week, and the administrative side is annoying), it has gotten less painful and I've started to experience some rewards that partially offset the stresses. I'm not kidding when I say you'll feel like you've grown as a person and, hopefully, as a scholar too, after your first year of it.

    I recommend looking online for TA resources posted by your own and other universities (usually through their teaching-development centres). Take any workshops or seminars on teaching available to TAs at your institutions. Get some books out of the library on teaching in higher education as well; a useful one that comes to mind is B.G. Davis' Tools for Teaching. All of this won't remedy your concerns, but you'll feel better knowing you've made efforts to prepare yourself.

  10. I didn't think of teaching as an option until after about a year into a teaching fellowship.

    I learned to teach by stealing. I grabbed copies of every syllabus I could find for the courses I taught, and thought long and hard about which profs seemed more effective as teachers and tried to identify what each one did that worked. It was a tremendous amount of work at the beginning, then got easier and eventually fun. I surveyed students before midterm (anonymous, informal) about what was working for them, what was difficult, and what was confusing to them, and tried to make adjustments while still meeting objectives.

    And yes, dear Bear, things look grim. But they looked grim 15 years ago when I was where you are now. On top of my regular grad program, I also applied to, was accepted, and completed an Ed program. In the entrance interview, the director pointed out to me that the economy sucked, there were too many teachers, and who the hell did I think I was that I could end up teaching?

    I replied that nothing is certain, even for MBAs. But if I didn't prepare to teach, then I was guaranteeing that I would NEVER teach.

    I went into a full time TT position immediately upon finishing my degrees. I achieved tenure in my first position, which wasn't my dream job, but boy, did I hone my teaching chops. I then went after my dream position and am entering my tenth year.

    No one throws a ticker tape parade for me when I go to work, and the pay isn't great. But I have awesome colleagues and some occasionally great students. Those who aren't I can vent about here. And...I get paid to talk about things I'm passionate about.

    So, dear Bear, if teaching speaks to you, do everything you can to get good at it. Prepare for what you imagine your future could be, and you'll be amazed at how things turn out.

    Best of luck to you! But remember, you make your own luck.

  11. I didn't want to teach. All the women in my family who'd gone to college before me taught. When I became a TA, I was hooked.

    Good luck.

  12. I always knew I wanted to teach college hamster basket weaving, and was excited as hell to finally get the chance to do it as a TA. I tried high school for one year by force of will alone. So, by comparison and despite the misery, I still love teaching college kids.

  13. I mentored and trained TAs for a few years, and I rarely saw someone become a good teacher who didn't go in with at least SOME desire to teach.

    I don't say it must BURN in you, but the advice is right. Try it out as soon as possible, even student teaching, community teaching, etc. It's a long rocky PhD road to get to a place where you can be a teacher in the cushiest of situations, so invest that time wisely.

    So many folks who start teaching careers end up in 5/5 situations with nothing but freshmen, and that is a killer even for the hardiest / heartiest of teachers.


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