Reflections on the Certificate of College Teaching Program
Annie Berke, Film and Media Studies, American Studies
Xin (Cindy) Yan, Chemistry
Film and Media Studies, American Studies
Professor of Film Studies at Hollins University
I came to Yale excited to teach or, more accurately, excited to find out if I even liked teaching, which I thought I would and, it turns out, I do. Because discussions about academic professionalization often refer to publishing articles or navigating the job market, the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning fills the necessary role of preparing graduate students to teach at Yale and beyond. I believe my time pursuing the Certificate of College Teaching Preparation (CCTP) has been as valuable as any of my other work at Yale in preparing me for my job at Hollins University, an all-women’s liberal arts college in Roanoke, Virginia.
When I began working toward the certification, I was initially dubious as to how helpful these workshops would be. How can you design a detailed lesson plan when the discussion may take on a life of its own once the students begin talking? Isn’t it best to let the students guide the conversation? I was wrong for two reasons, the first being that sometimes a class can suddenly go quiet or go off the rails entirely, and it is useful to have a few tricks up your sleeve, so that the discussion can remain lively and productive. But secondly, the skills that I developed in these workshops have formed my teaching practice, even when it appears that all I am doing is observing and gently prompting a student-led discussion.
For example, Bloom’s Taxonomy has been an infinitely helpful device for when I am planning a structured activity in class but even when I’m not.
Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy by Andrew Churches, 2009. Based on Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives: Complete edition, New York : Longman, and the original: Bloom B. S. (Ed). (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.
Sometimes I notice that while more ambitious students open the conversation with “create” statements, the class needs to build a strong foundation together by formulating a common vocabulary and making sure that everyone understands the texts at hand. That means we need to start with some basic “recall” questions and then progress or scaffold the conversation accordingly, so that all students are capable of getting involved in the discussion. Bloom’s Taxonomy taught me this lesson, and it is just one tool that the CCTP has added to my repertoire.
Academics usually have a current research project and an upcoming or developing project (to be detailed in cover letters and sheepishly described at cocktail parties). But my time at the Center for Teaching and Learning has made me think about always having current and future teaching goals for myself, be they trying out a new form of writing assignment or bringing social media into the curriculum. I hope that by articulating these goals to myself and to my colleagues, I will continue to develop as a teacher and discover a community of like-minded educators in the process.
Throughout my graduate school training, there was nothing more challenging, rewarding, and transforming as my two years of teaching experience. One thing that teaching fascinates me most is that it has never been a unidirectional process. Looking back, every stroke I made on the blackboard in the discussion sections and minute spent on tutoring students teaches me as much as I did for my students.
My favorite quote on teaching and education goes as, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.” I have strived my best to follow this credo during my two years to teaching. In the classroom, I encourage students to take an active part in the discussion sections, to help them become the actual leader of the section. Nevertheless, the process has never been easy. In my initial year of teaching, I have struggled from communication problems as a non-native speaker of English and very poor teaching skills. Luckily the workshops and training offered by the Center of Teaching and Learning came as a tremendous help to me, during which I learned about topics on how to teaching in a diverse classroom, how to make the best use of technologies, etc. I also joined the teaching certificate program and became more actively involved in learning how to teach effectively by observing others teach. Among them, the observation of a flipped class offered by Prof. Rolf gave my huge inspirations on how to engage students in the interactive learning process. Besides, I also found feedback from students, course instructors, and peer observers very helpful. The critical comments made me more aware of the weakness in teaching and helped me seek proactively for improvements; the positive comments always gave me enormous encouragement and confidence at every step of my way as a teacher.
Here I want to express my thanks to the resource provided by the Yale Center of Teaching and Learning, and the systematic training I received from the CCTP program, without which I could never achieve such significant progress in teaching, nor would I become so passionate about teaching as I am today.