Fifteen years ago, I left my career in engineering to pursue teaching and art. Along the way I have learned many things about myself and my students, shaping me into the teacher I am today. I find that by teaching, I not only get to help people, but I also get to feel fulfilled as a person. I love the opportunity to be able to give the students the creative tools they need to express themselves. In addition, working with students sparks my own creativity, which in turn gets me more excited about teaching.
One of the ways I try to foster the students’ learning process is to make sure they have a good grasp of why they are learning what they are learning. “Does this concept make sense?” is a question that I ask my students at least once every class. In the computer graphics field, many students are used to following step-by-step tutorials from books (or used to following teachers that adopt a similar cookbook approach.) Although this is a useful technique for some topics, it is imperative that teachers take the extra step to explain the concept behind a specific lesson. If not, how will the student complete a task on his own a few years from now? The importance of understanding the concept is what I believe prepares the student for the ever-changing future of technology. As a teacher, it is my responsibility to give my students the tools that will help them succeed in their careers, not just this class.
In order to help a diverse group of students actually achieve this success, I believe that I must be flexible as a teacher. For instance, some of my students may be more interested in 3D as a tool for creating images or animations, while other students may be interested in video-game development or industrial design. To determine their interests, I give my students a survey to fill out on the first day of class that will help me understand their individual goals and expectations. Using this information as a map, I tailor my day-to-day lessons to their areas of interest to help keep them engaged. In the beginning, I make the projects well structured and varied to expose them to applications and fields that they may not be familiar with. Then, as time continues, I encourage them to explore their original area of interest or perhaps branch into a new area of interest sparked by the earlier projects.
In addition to keeping the content flexible, my teaching style must also be flexible over the course of the quarter. During the first several classes I discover which teaching methods are working best for these students. For example, sometimes the ability to take notes on paper is helpful to the students, while other times using a visual online tutorial is a more effective teaching strategy. Then I structure the following lessons to best meet their needs. In the middle of the quarter, they fill out an anonymous feedback form that allows them to bring up things they like about how the course is taught as well as what could be changed. This then allows me to continue fine-tuning the course to best meet the students’ needs in the future. Throughout the quarter I routinely solicit verbal feedback as well, and I work hard to create an atmosphere that allows students to express their concerns and preferences. Another teaching technique that I have found successful is an “ignorant teacher” act that I perform. When students ask questions that I feel they can figure out themselves, I humorously act ignorant on the topic, and we try to figure out the answer together. The student thus feels empowered to find the answer on his own, which will help him or her in the future when I am no longer there as a direct resource.
Over the past fifteen years, I have discovered that there is always room to improve. Although the student feedback throughout the term helps me cater to the students’ needs directly, I also look to outside sources to help me improve my teaching skills. I am always looking for new literature on teaching styles, and I try to sit in (depending on workload) on classes with faculty that are noted to be good lecturers to help me improve my teaching skills. One time I sat in on a video class where, although I felt expert level proficiency with the subject, I was interested in seeing how someone else would teach the subject matter. This experience helped me to improve my pacing techniques as well as new ways to explain complex subject areas.
Finally, as a teacher, having the ability to learn on my own has been a vital tool to keep me current in my field as well. This is an important responsibility of any teacher, as the students rely on me to provide accurate and up-to-date information. I also draw upon my real life experiences to show students the practical applications of what they are learning. I work hard to stay current in my field so that my students will enter the professional arena well prepared. In my long term quest to become a great teacher, I will utilize my patience, approachability, articulate manner, and overall zeal for the subject to develop a practice that remains flexible and open to new pedagogical methods and technologies in my field.
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