Learning how to teach: My experience with the Centre for Teaching Excellence

empty classroomI was introduced to the Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) during graduate student orientation. I completed both CTE programs - Fundamentals of University Teaching and the Certificate of University Teaching (CUT) – in anticipation of teaching an undergraduate course in calculus as part of my PhD. The CTE programs afforded me an opportunity to practice and gain feedback on my teaching, instruction on how to prepare for the academic job search, and a heightened understanding of my personal teaching values.

The CTE’s Fundamentals program includes workshops on teaching large classes, motivating students, and improving your own teaching methods. I found these workshops enjoyable and extremely helpful. This program requires participation in three microteaching sessions, a series of short 10-minute self-contained lectures. The time constraints helped me focus on how to best explain a given topic to a diverse, non-expert audience in a limited time-frame. These workshops and microteaching sessions were also great opportunities to meet graduate students in different departments and learn about work being done outside my own field.

Next, I did the CUT program. CUT workshops taught me how to run a course independently, covering course design, interactive teaching, and student learning assessment. These workshops prepared me to teach a large introductory calculus class, full of boisterous and enthusiastic engineering students. Using methods learned through the CTE, I built a strong rapport with my students. They were quite disappointed to learn that this was a one-off teaching opportunity for me as part of my PhD, and I would not be teaching their next calculus course.

As part of the CUT program I prepared a teaching dossier, a collection of documents and a written description of my teaching experience to date, and a teaching philosophy, a statement of my beliefs about learning and teaching. This required some significant self-reflection on what I value in education and what I consider good teaching. While these documents required a lot of time to prepare, it was worth the effort, as both have been required on numerous occasions when applying for academic jobs.

When I finish my PhD, I am aiming for a teaching position at the post-secondary level. I would recommend that all students with an interest in teaching, or a teaching requirement as part of their program, take advantage of the programs and services offered through the CTE.

Alex Howse is a PhD Candidate in the Faculty of Mathematics and the recipient of 2016’s Certificate in University Teaching Award. His doctoral research looks at nonlinear preconditioning methods for solving nonlinear optimization problems and parallel-in-time methods for systems of differential equations based on multigrid reduction.

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