Saturday, August 13, 2011

The End of Boot Camp and Some Good Advice

About 6 weeks ago I wrote about starting FSU’s First-Year Composition Summer Boot camp (you can read about it here). I finally finished boot camp and am coming up for air. We have a 3 weeks between boot camp and the first day of classes, so I’m hoping to catch up on my own writing, finish furnishing my apartment, and make it out the beach (I’m in Florida after all).

Boot camp ended up being a really good experience for me. A lot of the theory that we read hasn’t totally sunk in yet, but I know that once I’m in the classroom and have my own experiences that I can use to converse with the pedagogy, it’ll all start to click. On a more practical level it was really great to get experience teaching a few lessons and classes in a summer semester comp class, meet and get to know the other graduate students, and to get time to work on my e-portfolio (you can see the early version of my portfolio here).

Perhaps the most useful part of boot camp, though, was the advice passed on to us from the more experienced TAs. I can’t vouch for it all yet, since I’ve only spent a few lessons in front of a classroom, but I wanted to share what I think will end up being the most useful advice we were given:

  • · Be honest, but not too honest: It’s ok to say you made a mistake or didn’t know something—it’ll make your students more likely to do the same. But you don’t need to tell them it’s your first time teaching, how young you are, or what you’re doing over the weekend.
  • · Take your teaching seriously, but remember to put your own studies first: It’s easy for teaching to take up all your time. Don’t let it. You need to set limits and remember you can’t do everything.
  • · Don’t micro-manage: You can’t fix all the writing problems you see—focus on the big picture not the individual commas. You don’t have time to do it all.
  • · Not everyone loves writing as much you do: You can’t convert everyone.
  • · Stay true to who you are: Nothing will lose you respect in the classroom as quickly as being a fraud. Be you. It can be an animated version of you or a stricter version of you. But it should ultimately be you.
  • · Your students aren’t your friends: They need a teacher far more than they need another friend.
  • · Know when to refer your students to others: University writing centers and counseling centers are there for the students to use. If something comes up that is out of your expertise tell them where they can go for help.
  • · Write down everything in your syllabus/course policy sheet: If it’s there on paper in black and white, students can’t get away with claiming they didn’t understand or didn’t know.
  • · Be confident in your grades: You do know what an A paper looks like (and a B, C, D, etc). But there will always be some students that argue. Have a rubric so you can explain it to them. And remember they won’t lose a scholarship or flunk out of school because of just your class, but you’re probably the only grade they’re arguing. So be confident.
  • · Always keep a couple of exercise, quick lessons, or activities in your back pocket: You never know when a discussion or activity might fall flat or finish up a lot quicker than you anticipated. It’s good to have some back-ups to fill up class time or pull the energy level back up.
  • · Think of your students as intelligent young adults: They’re not kids anymore and they’re not your children. Treat them like adults, and keep an appropriate distance.
  • · Don’t forget to take care of yourself: Grad school is hard. You’ll be busy. But don’t forget to go to the doctor, eat your meals, get sleep, and make time to do the things you enjoy.

Hope this helps some of you. I’d love to hear what kind of advice the rest of you have gotten.

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