I didn’t train as a teacher in college. My major was English, “writing, not teaching” as I was quick to highlight for anyone who asked. I’d grown up hearing I should be a teacher but it never really caught my interest. Then I fell into teaching. First, I taught for a summer in 2005 at the Sahmyook SDA Language Institute in South Korea to over 125 students a day. Then, I taught writing courses in the English Language Institute at Middle East University. One day I got an email I’d never imagined I would receive: “Would you be willing to teach Media Writing?” And so my university teaching career began.
I had been working in media writing for over 20 years, so I was comfortable teaching the course. I decided that teaching was merely a matter of preparation. Prepare the course outline, prepare the lessons, and then adjust as needed throughout the semester. My students were a delight and I looked forward to my time in the classroom each week.
During a graduate level course in Philosophy of Education, as I dabbled with the idea of getting a Master’s degree in teaching so I could transition full-time to the classroom, I realized that my praxis was lacking in one area: mentorship. During that course, I observed a long-time professor and learned by example how to teach. I learned to be methodical in my instruction so students would understand the basics before diving deeper into a topic. I learned to come 10 minutes early to class, rather than hurrying in at the same time as the students, so I would have sufficient time to set up.
I also learned how to give assignments to my students. I learned that reading reports were valuable as they pushed students to apply the concepts to their worldview. I learned that consistency, such as 1 reading report, 1 quiz, and 1 homework assignment a week, was easier for students to manage as the information was broken down into manageable pieces for them to contemplate. As I learned, I began to change my teaching methods to better help my students learn.
Recently, my best friend Marisa and I have been exchanging teaching notes over lunch once a week. We discuss how to help students who seem to be spaced out in class, how to set weighted grades using Google Classroom, and whether quizzes or projects are more valuable depending on the course content. We share what we learn with each other and, in turn, teach each other to be better teachers. Marisa is also not a teacher by trade but excels from an innate understanding of what it means to teach.
Having a mentor is an invaluable aspect of being an excellent teacher. Finding a mentor can take some work, but it is possible. Connect with a colleague, look up a former teacher, and meet with them regularly. Invest in yourself and as you do so, you will invest in your students and help them to succeed not only in your class but also in life.