Teaching (and not Teaching)

From August 2012 until August 2019, I taught at the University of Illinois. When I first began teaching in August 2012, I was nervous. I was only a few years older than my students and had never taken a public speaking class. Yet, in a few short weeks, I was trained to teach public speaking to first-year students. I worked with my colleagues and mentors on how to best present materials to students. Eventually, I became confident in my ability to teach public speaking, a course that I would teach many times during graduate school.

Teaching was one my favorite parts of graduate school. I developed confidence in my ability to explain concepts to non-experts and improved my own public speaking skills. I also learned to develop expertise on a topic quickly, so that I could teach it to others. Teaching also presented opportunities to collaborate with my colleagues. We often spoke about how to develop classroom materials and how to approach topics in the classroom. While people may think of graduate school as primarily about research, many graduate students are also learning how to teach.

This August was the first August in seven years that I did not have to prepare for teaching. I did not have to write a syllabus, create a Moodle page, or come up with an ice breaker activity for the first day. Many of my friends still teach regularly. I see a lot of social media posts about teaching and still get questions from my friends about how to best approach Communication topics in the classroom. Although I may not be in the classroom every day, I continue to stay on top of the latest teaching research in Communication. Through NCA’s Communication Currents, I summarize this research for teachers and the public.

In a recent Communication Currents, I discussed research from Communication scholars that addressed which stories are most relevant to students in the classroom. Students frequently felt that stories that related to their own experience were the most relevant. For example, some students felt that stories about struggling as an undergraduate helped them through their own struggles. In addition, stories that explained concepts through pop culture references were also helpful. One quick note is that students may not always find teachers’ pop culture references relevant. As a teaching assistant, I learned (to my surprise) that many of my students had not seen Star Wars. This was not an insurmountable hurdle, but it meant that I had to be a bit more attuned to the pop culture that they were consuming.

You can read the full Communication Currents piece on NCA’s website.