Week 6: “Who reads the syllabus anymore?”

In the interest of disclosure, I was a little rusty on the syllabi fro my own classes when the topic of syllabus design came up in our Contemporary Pedagogy class. We created draft syllabi for classes for which we served as TAs or for The College Course of Our Wildest Dreams™, and then we went to a peer review process with our classmates, and when I saw their syllabi, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow. Mine sucks. I really need to step it up.” Here’s the best excerpt of what I’ve got so far. The plan is to take the rest of the content and also create a nice layout for it (I’m in an art/design/creative code program; it’s the least I can do) in the hopes that my hypothetical Engaged and Enthusiastic Dream Students™ actually read my syllabus. So, here goes:



Who knows, maybe they will. 🤓

The fears and love of Teaching

Thinking through the reading from Sarah Heel and others post on authenticate self-teaching I realize that there are similarities in the thought on how authentic self-teaching should be.  I have little experience in teaching, more reason why I applied for this course, I just want to see if this passion I have carried for a long time is actually meant for me. Teaching has always been my passion, but I just feel I needed the right mentoring and guidance. I have had little teaching experience in the past, and I would say my thought was quite similar to what others had mentioned in class the only difference was the country and race.

I had the opportunity to tutor high school graduate aspiring and preparing to gain admission into the higher institution in my home country Nigeria. I taught them mathematics and biology, my experience with them was quite funny and familiar too. Some of the students were so grown and were entirely my age and the fact I look younger than my age made me worrisome of how they will relate with me. 

My first-day teaching was really terrible because I could read their facial expression. I saw the curiousness they had on their face which I interpreted as doubt of what I have to deliver to them. Those looks made so nervous, but I got my nerves calm as soon as the Tutorial head came to my rescue giving me the charge to send out any student not willing to pay attention to my teaching. These changed over time and they respected me after they discovered what I have to deliver to them was what they needed.

I have not done any teaching since then, however, starting my master’s program in the US as broadened my knowledge on the best way to teach. The class I TA has being a training ground for me and I have been observing my professor, though I don’t intend to do exactly like him, I would be myself and make sure the main goal is achieved, which is to ensure that an engaging learning experience by both I and my student.


Finding the Right Balance

My introduction to teaching feels analogous to the account given by Sarah Deel in her article Finding My Teaching Voice. Though I did lobby for my own opportunity to teach a class, the feeling of being underprepared after my ostensible toss into the fire was not unalike. Similar to her, I come from a small liberal arts college that prioritized teaching over research and publication. I too teach a class I never took as an undergrad. And though it is not substantively dissimilar from my own work and artistic practice generally-speaking, the particular minutia of the syllabus are not always skills and wedges of knowledge that I would ascribe to myself a level of mastery from which to confidently teach.

I often spend a lot of time before class researching whatever it is that we will be talking about that day. Like Sarah, having access to the details helps me to feel more confident as a teacher. I don’t expect to have answers to all of the questions that my students ask, but by preparing I feel more capable of steering them in a useful direction.

After reading the articles for this week, I realize that the confidence I gain from increasing my own knowledge is likely a result of my understanding of what it means to be a “teacher.” By increasing my knowledge, I feel better able spout information and bestow understanding, just as many of my own teachers had done. My definition of “teacher” comes from the conditioning I received from my own experiences in school. However, as Professor Fowler notes in her Authentic Teaching Self outline, a “teacher” is better understood as a guide or a facilitator, not a knowledge-dispenser.

What kind of teacher am I? One who is serious about figuring that out. I value preparation and knowledge. It’s important to me to be ready when class starts and to have the appropriate balance of structure and flexibility to the lesson so that I don’t waste my students’ time. Similarly, I want to know enough about what I teach to constructively engage students’ questions. I don’t expect to know all the answers, but I expect to be useful in facilitating new discoveries and resolving obstacles.

Accomplishing those things mostly comes down to a time commitment, which I can control. Truly facilitating learning in the classroom is a more challenging task. I want to be aware of the proficiencies, deficiencies, and curiosities of my students, and improve our learning experience accordingly. It’s vital that I not only have such an awareness of the class as a whole, but also of each student as an individual. Approaching students as individuals legitimizes their position as a scholar in the field as well as provides tangibility to my relationship with them as a teacher. Furthermore, as a teacher in the arts, working with students individually helps generate a more diverse creative output. If my students create projects that all look the same, the culpability, at least in part, lies with me.

None of these ideals amount to much though if I don’t reconcile them against being myself. My experiences thus far with teaching have shown me that it’s much less stressful and exhausting if I don’t try to be a more perfect version of myself at the same time. It’s important to practice what I believe makes a good teacher, but it’s equally important to be myself. If teaching was only about knowledge and preparation it wouldn’t interest me, and there likely wouldn’t be classes such as this one. That tells me that I have something to offer that’s completely distinct from any knowledge I possess, and also inextricably bound to my unique self. Soon, I hope to be able to draw my confidence from that too.

The Authentic Teaching Self

When I began reading Sarah Deel’s “Finding my Teaching Voice,” the very first line, in which she says “when [she] began teaching… all [she] knew about teaching came from watching [her] own teachers over the 16 years [she’d] spent in school,” resonated with me. I feel that’s the same mindset that I’m in right now– often thinking about instructors I’ve had in the past, and what they did that I liked and disliked.

I realize that I’m making (at least) two somewhat problematic assumptions in this line of thinking:

(1) That I should emulate those who have come before me.
Sarah Deel’s essay dives into this one. She ultimately comes to the conclusion that your teaching style comes from within. That being said, it can be difficult to sit down and answer, “who am I?” To complicate things further, I (and everyone else, I imagine) can be very different in different contexts. So the real question is, “who am I when I teach?” What parts of my personality do I want to accentuate as a teacher?

(2) That the type of instruction that I responded well to as a student is what others will respond to as well.
What I find most helpful or engaging in the classroom isn’t necessarily what others respond to, so trying to base my own teaching style off of what I like in a teacher may not be the best method. Students have different learning styles, and come from different backgrounds and with different skills. While it’s probably impossible to cater to every student’s style (although that may depend on how many students you have), I try to keep in mind that having some variety is important.

The authentic teaching self: Treating students as individuals

This week’s blog prompts in GEDI F18 focused on finding your teaching voice. I found Professor Deel’s essay “Finding my teaching voice” most interesting for several reasons. First, Deel’s presented several of the same questions that I have been asking myself about teaching and my teaching style. Second, she describes herself very much the same way I would describe myself (e.g., detail-oriented and uncool). I think we could be best friends. However, what I would like to discuss are Deel’s comments on assessing students individually and setting individual goals for students. Deel’s says “assessing [students] equally by a common rubric is very difficult.” I am inclined to agree.

Some students enter class with previous knowledge and skill sets that help them excel over other students. This doesn’t mean that they have nothing to learn, they may just have the potential to learn more or at a faster pace. Should instructors then use the same measures to assess these students compared to others or is it okay to set the bar higher and expect more? Another question can be asked for the other students, should their small yet important achievements be given greater acknowledgement?

This reminds me of coaching youth soccer. In sports, every player enters at a different level. Some pick up on the game very quickly, others struggle with the basics. It’s natural for me to treat each of my players as individuals. I push the players who are near the top of the ladder and I applaud the players who are climbing up from the rungs near the bottom. This approach works, everyone is improving and learning the skills they need to be successful, though learning occurs at their own pace.

Should and can this model be applied in the classroom? Is it already being applied through providing student’s feedback? Last week, we discussed assessment. Is it enough to give the high-achieving students A’s and other students lower grades with more positive feedback (that they can choose to ignore)? Does this push students to achieve greater learning? Should students be pushed? Can instructors set the same learning outcomes for students but assess them on different scales? I’m not sure.

Departmental support makes all the difference for new teachers

I identified with a lot of what Sarah Deel discussed in her post. I will be a first time teacher next semester, so I am asking and attempting to answer many of the same questions she did; however, unlike Sarah, I have the full support and mentorship of my department during this process. I am also coming from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, so the emphasis on teaching is slightly greater than in other colleges. Like Sarah, though, I came from a  smaller liberal arts school where teaching was the forefront for most faculty, so the adjustment from that school to Tech has been odd for me. I am grateful for my “academic upbringing” in the liberal arts, as teaching has always been a bigger passion than research for me and because of the school I came from, I am confident in sharing that with faculty in my department.

I have described it before, but after the readings for this week, I am incredibly grateful for my department’s apprenticeship program for GTAs. This semester, I am attending all the classes of, do the grading for and will give two lectures in a section of the course I will teach next semester. I meet with my apprenticeship supervisor each week to process things that happened in the class (things my supervisor felt worked and areas where they felt they could improve)  and to discuss any of my upcoming responsibilities. As I prepare my first guest lecture (in two weeks!) my supervisor shared with me resources they use for content as well as more general teaching resources that I will use in my presentation. I will get feedback from my thesis advisor, my apprenticeship supervisor and another graduate student in my department from one or both of my guest lectures, that can not only go into a teaching portfolio, but will also be helpful in developing my course for the spring.

I had previously been a TA for a professor who is nearing retirement and while they were absolutely great to me, they were less understanding or sympathetic to undergraduate students and their struggles. My apprenticeship mentor’s teaching philosophy is all about increasing and creating opportunities for learning whenever they can. By doing grading for these different professors and their individual standards for accepting student work, I’ve found where my boundaries will be with students. As a student teacher, especially, and maybe during my first few years as a full-on faculty member, I will have more strict guidelines than my mentorship supervisor and will be more flexible than my previous TA supervisor. As I get further into my career and have more time devoted to teaching rather than other bureaucratic responsibilities, these policies may change over time.

Without this apprenticeship program and other opportunities afforded to me by my department, I imagine that I would be much less sure of myself as a future teacher and would spend a significant amount of time agonizing over the questions Sarah asked herself. After reading about her experiences, my appreciation for my department and the faculty’s willingness to share their experiences and resources in teaching has increased ten-fold and I know I have an invaluable network of support.

Trying to Define My Teaching Self

This week’s readings triggered another visit to an old question that keeps haunting me: What kind of professor do I want to be?

Let’s be clear: I’m in Computer Science. Any classes I would teach will be heavily male-dominated, and may very likely consist of only men. And I look 18. Plus, teaching Computer Science concepts is a complex challenge alone, even without considering how to make it “fun.”

Here’s what I really mean: I might be one of the few– if not the only– women in the room; I worry about the level of respect and how seriously my students (particularly male students) will take me. This is only worsened by the fact that I look about their age. And trying to be a “fun” or “cool” teacher with such complicated, dense course material is already a challenge.

When I taught this past summer, these issues were front and center for me. I handled the concerns regarding my apparent age by trying to dress very professionally– more professionally than I have for any previous job. To address the difference in gender, I always tried to make sure that any attempts for “fun” or “coolness” were carefully executed; the last thing I needed was for students to take things the wrong way or otherwise give the impression that students could show me less respect than they would for their male professors.

That last part– being “fun”– was particularly difficult for me. Naturally, I’m someone who loves fun. I’m always looking for ways to put a twist on things or spice things up, just to make it different or interesting. A lot of that, however, revolves around my tendency to “give people shit.” Usually in silly ways. For example:

Friend (referring to some random thing): This is dumb.

Me: Well, maybe you’re dumb.

Friend: Well, maybe your face is dumb.

Me: Well, maybe your mom is dumb!

Silly? Yes. Stupid? Absolutely. Fun? Maybe. It at least breaks any monotony and opens the opportunity for more fun. But in a classroom setting, how would these kids of quips be received? I mean, I think calling students dumb, even in jokes, is probably not a good idea. But other types of quips along these lines? Maybe they’re ok, depending on the student. Yet my hesitancy revolves around 2 big concerns:

  1. Will students continue to take me seriously if I start to joke like that?
  2. Will any of my students mistake this kind of joking for flirting? (Let’s be honest, this has happened before outside the classroom, especially because I am careful who I joke about like this as not everyone likes it, but that means that a lot of this kind of joking is focused on only a few people. So, in the past it has been mistaken for some kind of special attention hinting at a romantic interest. I don’t need that kind of misinterpretation inside the classroom.)

These concerns extend to other things I might try to do for fun as well. For example, I debated all summer long whether to show this YouTube video to my students:

Is it relevant to anything in the course? No. But it’s funny and would help lighten the mood in the classroom. (For those of you who aren’t into video games or certain Nintendo games, the music is from the Kirby series and has been used in the Super Smash Bros. soundtracks, so most students in a Computer Science class would likely at least recognize it.)

Image result for kirby

My concerns for showing the video? It’s based on the Single Ladies music video, starring women in tight leotards. So, is it appropriate to show in a college classroom? Is it appropriate to show in a college classroom consisting almost entirely of men? Is it appropriate for me, a woman, to show in a college classroom consisting almost entirely of men? (Ultimately, I showed it to a few students after the semester was over, towards the end of a social event– a game night– that I organized to celebrate the end of a difficult class for them. It got a good laugh.)

So, the bottom line for me is this: How can I be my authentic teaching self when my personality leans towards jokes and other fun things while my classes consist of a bunch of teenage/early-20 boys? Where does that balance lie? What kind of professor do I want to be vs what kind of professor can I or should I be?

I want to be a teacher!

I always get very excited whenever I think about teaching. I am so passionate about it that whenever I am reading an article related to teaching, my mind wanders off in its own world, thinking that I would do this and that in my hypothetical class. I even start imagining the responses from the students and if they would take it in a good spirit or not. That’s why I am not just excited but also very nervous. Sometimes I fear that what if I mess up everything and ruin the kids’ interest completely. That fear is enough for me to reconsider the decision whether I should teach or not. I have always thought that if I would be a teacher, I should not be like the ones that I have encountered in my early life, who were there just because they were getting paid. Teaching is one profession where you have immense power at your hands. If the right directions are given, and the minds are ignited properly then the fire can change someone’s life in a manner that will not only help the person but can have a huge positive impact on the society. Whereas on the other hand, bad teaching has also powers to kill the passion and interest and may turn out to be the reason for less than satisfactory life for someone. I understand that the above statements may feel exaggerated but it is possible (the Butterfly effect).

I felt a bit better after reading the article by Sarah E. Deel. The article details her journey to become the teacher that she is now. She took the long route of starting from scratch and exploring everything by herself. She asked herself many questions and after trying to find the answers in the articles and textbooks on pedagogy, understood that much important information is missing. At one point, she thought it would be good to be a popular professor and tried to be one. However, she soon realized that copying the traits of some other professors who were assumed cool, is not something she could do forever. I could really connect with her here. Whenever I have imagined the way I would teach, I would always start with my favorite professors and their way of teaching and how I could incorporate that in my own way. However, I never thought if I have the same characteristics in myself as they have.

As with anything, if you keep looking for answers rather than the answers to come to you, the probability is high that you will stumble upon them. Sarah also found her answers after struggling for a while. She realized that there is no one way of being a perfect teacher and the key is to be herself. This realization changed everything for her. Being oneself takes away at least half the burden of teaching. The only thing to focus then is the content for the class. The toll of acting like someone that you are not is heavy and once that is gone, automatically there is an energy boost with the happiness of being your own self. So, the only thing that remains now is to find my true self and if you have not already noticed the title of this webpage, I am on that mission for a while now.

Whether I would be a good teacher or a bad one, time will tell. But at least with such brilliant articles and discussions that happen in the class, I definitely have some hope. And hope, they say, is a good thing, maybe the best!

Even if the shoe fits, you should find your own shoe.


I have always enjoyed school, from the new notebooks to the new classmates, but what really made me school experience shine for me, was that of who was teaching me. I have always been one to admire the professors I have had and their passion for learning (I was graced with great teachers all through my undergrad—there isn’t one I look back on and are like “ he/she was the absolute worst!”, which, I feel very fortunate for. However, this is also a hard burden to bare—I never want to be the “the absolute worst” for any of my students that I teach, and that is a lot of responsibility. I never want to be the professor people dread having a class with.

Though, I currently am not in what others would consider a typical classroom (I am actually in a residence hall), I  still consider myself an educator—just with a lot more noise and a personal ~homey~ ambiance. When I was reading “Finding My Teaching Voice” by Sarah E. Deel, I found myself really resonating with what she said about finding yourself as an educator and the twists and turns of developing your own style and identity.

When I entered my role of being an Assistant Residential Learning Coordinator, I had zero residence life experience and was looking for the best ways to reach my students and give them the best experience possible. I did not want them to feel like they got the short-end of the stick so to speak with having a coordinator that did not have prior experience. I found myself turning to my supervisor and observing her style. In my eyes, she was this confident, experienced, and engaging educator. She had a take-charge attitude with a mix of assertiveness and relatable & personable demeanor.

The students we worked with were very receptive to her style and since I was new, I was still going through the growing pains of trying out new styles and seeing if they would work. I, like Sarah, felt like I was not sure I belonged here and doubted myself and my abilities as an educator. I had a couple misses with different styles with my student staff and I saw how receptive students where to her demeanor and ways, I tried to be like her. Like Sarah, I had resigned myself to thinking that my approach and ways were not good so I should just emulate someone’s ways that works and works well.

What I failed to realize, is we were totally different people and I didn’t account for our personality differences. By putting on my supervisor’s teaching voice, I was not being true to myself and giving myself grace to fully figure out who and what kind of educator I could be. It was exhausting trying to be like my supervisor with teaching, I could do the same thing she did, but end up with totally different results and reactions. I felt defeated, I thought my way did not work and then when I tried a way that worked for someone else, and it still was not working. I did not know what to do and I did not want to let my students down.

I started talking with my supervisor more about this feeling of being an imposter and not wanting to let down the students counting on me. In this conversation, I had my own version of Sarah’s “ah-ha” moment when I realized that there are many ways to be an effective educator. Once I started being more true to myself- just as Sarah did- I realized, I was having much better results. By giving myself grace to be my authentic self (weird enthusiasm & positivity and all), I realized that though I have my own way of educating,  it does not make it any less valid. When I brought more of myself into my work, I had much better feedback from staff. Like the other article, “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills” by Professor Fowler said, “students see posing and posturing very quickly; do not be someone you are not in your classroom”. I believe this full-heartedly rings true. I agree with Sarah when she said, “because I am more relaxed about interacting with my students, my communication with them seems to go more smoothly”. The second I stopped trying to be someone else, my relationships with my students grew stronger.

As I continue to grow and explore as an educator, I know that I plan on staying true to who I am throughout the process. I just wish I had learned this lesson the first week on the job.

My draft teaching philosophy

I taught courses and hosted a workshop in the past years. I didn’t find a time and think what my teaching philosophy is. This assignment is an opportunity for me to draft my teaching philosophy.   I believe that teaching someone else is the best way to learn. I want to teach students to learn new knowledge from me and also I can learn new knowledge from them. I want to create an environment that all of us will gain something new after the semester is ended. There is all kind of students and all have different thoughts and goals for the course they take. Thus, I won’t try to accommodate all students in the class, which is impossible. However, I will do my best to teach these self-motivated students who eager to learn and we can work together to create, build, and deliver innovation projects from the course. To become a successful professor, the most important thing is to do good research. With good research then would award funding proposals, reputation, etc. Research is a cooperative work, besides work with other professors and lab graduate students; if I can develop a teaching methodology that can apply to the course that students and I can both learn and produce good research from the class, that would be wonderful!! What do you think?
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