In the fall semester of 2016, I was lucky enough to teach my first undergraduate course, Corporate Sustainability: Issues and Prospects. This course, in the Faculty of Environment, is directly related to my PhD research on sustainability and Big Food corporations. The course typically has twenty-six students from a variety of disciplines. Interacting with students and sharing a topic that you’re passionate about is a great academic and professional development experience. The Centre for Teaching Excellence’s Certificate in University Teaching (CUT) program gave me the skills and confidence to teach with great success, receiving excellent course evaluations at the end of semester.
What I found most valuable about the CUT program prior to teaching was getting in-depth feedback on my teaching through two lecture observations. Before teaching, I went over this feedback to ensure that I was addressing the weaknesses in my lectures and making the most of any positive feedback I received. The CUT program taught me tips and tricks to improve my teaching and encouraged me to start thinking about how I interact with students.
The second most useful aspect of the CUT program was having time allocated to think about my teaching philosophy. Time is a precious resource in grad school; many of us don’t have time to stop and think about this important aspect of teaching without a prompt. The CUT program enabled me to think about my unique approach to teaching through developing a teaching dossier. Personally, I’m motivated by my hope to inspire the next generation of students who will be faced with navigating complex environmental and political challenges.
Teaching during your PhD can be a daunting task! Not everyone is naturally suited to getting in front of students or delivering information in a way they can understand. Some people struggle to interact with students to provide feedback and mentorship. Couple this with the other demands of grad school and teaching can seem overwhelming. It can be easy to avoid participating in these programs, but if you have any interest in teaching, they are definitely worth the effort and the time. The CUT program was an exceptional resource for me in preparing to teach a course and to develop my ability to speak about my approach to pedagogy with confidence.
Caitlin Scott is a PhD Candidate in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability. Her research explores how Big Food corporations use discourses of sustainability.