13 October 2009

Teaching, learning and writing

I had a rough lab meeting today for the class I teach, a writing intensive, field ecology course. I am a TA for the class, so I am responsible for instructing 23 students (of the 90 students total in the lecture course) in ecological methods and experimentation. That basically means I do a short lecture about the main topics for the day, drive them to the field site, and help them out as they collect data. I also instruct them in data analysis. Finally, I grade their assignments, which mostly involves lab write-ups (scientific format) and scientific arguments, often involving multiple drafts of the same document.

I've found that, although the ecology course matter and curriculum is not my forte, the actual teaching an instruction is not really the most difficult part of teaching for me. The hard part is remembering the absolutely mundane minutiae. Keys for the van to get to the site. Directions to the site. Equipment for fieldwork. Keeping track of 23 students. Cell phone, first aid kit, water, everything else I like to have in the field with me. Decent shoes and clothes in which to teach. Sheesh...ecology is the least of my worries!

Today we went to a beautiful section of virgin forest near campus to learn about forest composition. It's a bit of a hike to get to the site, and it was cold, wet, and windy. Four students were not able to attend class (for various reasons), so the remaining students had to work extra hard to get their data collected. I am so proud of my students for getting so much done, and for not complaining. I, however, am really exhausted, and am ashamed to say I was not looking forward to taking them out for lab today. We TAs set up the lab plots on Friday afternoon, and I was pretty miserable. But I did have fun today, and it was mostly due to my students having fun, being engaged, and wanting to get their work done.

Their effort always makes me wonder what I was really like as a student. In laboratories that actually met in a wet lab, I think I was horrible. I always got decent grades, but I really hated them. I also took a ton of classes requiring one (or many) papers. I got even better grades on writing assignments, and learned to work very efficiently to get papers done in a timely manner.

I've found that it generally takes me about 15 minutes to read and grade a 5 page paper. I think I'm pretty thorough, and I hope I give helpful comments. I know my own teachers did. I doubt many of them graded that quickly, though, especially given the types of assignments I used to write for some science and history classes. Someday I will go back to my old notes and syllabi and look at exactly how many papers I had to write. I would not be surprised to learn that my teachers over the years literally spent HOURS reading and grading my papers. I don't take my writing skills for granted anymore, since they are the result of quite a few people spending quite a bit of time helping me hone them.

No comments: