The closer I can see the eyes of a student, the better the teaching gets.
I am lucky enough to have classes of 18-22 students, so I get to see their eyes everyday that I am in class, but when I get to interact with my students outside of this setting, things only get better. This thought came to me a couple of weeks ago when I was totally in love with my job as an instructor. Things in the classroom have been at an all-time high for me. I love my students this semester. I love the topics that I get to teach about, but teaching is not always about what happens in the classroom, sometimes it is about the students’ success outside of the classroom.
I do a lot of teaching outside of the classroom too. This particular week, I had appointments with many students about the extemporaneous speeches that they had given in the classroom a week or so before we met. I love these meetings. I get to talk one on one about their speeches, their experience giving speeches or presentations with others in a school setting. Sometimes I learn about what they did in high school that might have given them some practice talking in front of people. Some have been on a debate team, some performed theater, some are dancers, or others a member of a forensics team. Very few students have been charged with any sort of presentation, so as a part of the Honors Program they learn.
During these meetings I ask my students how they think they did. I ask them, “What went through their mind when they sat down after their speech?” After they tell me how they think they did, I tell them how I think they did. Although I have many more good things to say about the speeches in my class, sometimes I have to deliver messages of suggestions for improvement to the students. I only want success for my students, and this means improving on skills not yet learned.
When we are done talking about their speeches, I am sure to ask how things are going outside of my classroom. Any course in chemistry is a perennial complaint. I counsel them to seek help with other students, teaching assistants, and of course, their instructors.
Being the good Jewish grandmother that I want to be, I make sure they are sleeping and eating well, and remove their noses from their books every once and a while to make some real human contact.
That week, I was also working with three students who came to me seeking help before they had to get up in front of the whiteboard to give their speeches. I helped three of them weeks before their presentation date. We met to make sure they were taking the time to research their topics well. We met to make sure their outlines of their speeches were complete. We met so that they could give their speech to me before they gave it to their peers in the classroom. All three students, one third year student and two first semester students took on the challenge and succeeded with the brightness of gold stars reminiscent of grade school.
I realize that the closer that I get to work with students one on one, the more gratifying my work is. There has been some great synergy in the classes that I have been teaching this semester, but it takes great individuals to make up a great class. I am very lucky indeed.
Anne Marie Merline is a faculty member in the University Honors Program. Letters and feedback can be sent to email@example.com