Former Lead TF in chemistry Kristen Kush is now a chemistry teacher through Teach for America. Here’s her story of how she became a TF and how being a TF in college helps her now:
If someone had told me that I would be a high school chemistry teacher right out of college, I would have definitely responded with “Ha, you’re crazy.” However, from early on in my undergraduate career teaching was something on my radar. Before we talk about the myriad of ways the TF program has helped me in my current role as a Chemistry teacher, let’s rewind to 4.5 years ago when I was a first year at William Smith. I was a frequent visitor to the Spanish Teaching Fellows and I found the program extremely beneficial as far as the help they provided and the information I learned while watching them help other students. The atmosphere was so welcoming there (even though it was the basement of Smith Hall) that I would go there with just one Spanish question with the intention to hang out and do other work. Later that same year, I was nominated and selected to be a Teaching Fellow in the Chemistry department. I thought that this was a position I could definitely see myself in – teaching and Chemistry – a perfect mix! When I was hired to be a Lead TF, I learned more about the administrative side of teaching. I learned to give my mentees feedback on how they were doing as TFs, how to conduct interviews, and how to work independently on a project. Today,, so much from the Teaching Fellows program has been beneficial to me as a teacher on a daily basis.
The top five ways the Teaching Fellows program has helped me with my job:
5. Hearing about this thing called Bloom’s Taxonomy. Okay so I admit, I didn’t really know how this could be useful as a TF. Now, it’s something I have to consider daily when making objectives and writing questions. For example, do I want students to have to define a solid, liquid, and gas or compare and contrast the three states of matter? One of these options is much “higher” on Bloom’s and would show better understanding. For more information on Bloom’s Taxonomy, click here!
4. The importance of a welcoming atmosphere. As I had mentioned, the Spanish TFs, even with their location in Smith basement, was a place I wanted to go to do work. Now, I do my best to make my classroom a place where students want to be and make myself available for help before and after school.
3. Learning Styles. As a TF it was important to adjust the method of teaching to help students. It is definitely a more difficult task in a classroom, as it is less of a one-on-one situation, but it is useful to recognize that students learn differently so that I can plan activities and be more helpful outside of class.
2. Having teaching experience. It was a great opportunity to be the person that students went to when they were struggling. I was introduced to some common confusions in chemistry that I am now prepared for, and I know when they’re coming.
1. Patience. Patience. Patience. A very valuable trait for a TF, maybe even more for the Chemistry TFs who worked Sunday nights. I have to be extremely patient when I teach 5 classes of 88 students in 3 different classrooms. It is definitely an adventure, but it does require more than a little patience.
Low nights and low numbers? Visit some classes mid-semester!
The middle of the semester can be slow in some departments, but usually the numbers will pick up at the end of the semester as final papers and exams approach. We want to encourage students to come in to TF hours before the very end so that they understand the material as the course goes along instead of trying to cram a full semester’s worth of content into the last few nights before exams.
A great way to reach out to more students is to visit the classes halfway through the semester or so and invite them to come by, particularly in classes that you have not seen many students from. This is your chance to remind the classes you are available and want to see them! Showing the students that you are friendly and eager to help will make them more comfortable with the idea of dropping in. Some things to include in this quick Teaching Fellow Infomercial are your hours, the location where you work, your name, and a little bit about yourself. Although you did this at the beginning of the semester, repeating this information again to the classes (and writing it on the board) will encourage more people to come by. You can also tell the classes the types of assignments you have helped people with that semester, especially specific assignments pertaining to the class you’re visiting. Another option is leading or assisting the professor in a short lesson or game to show the students how approachable and knowledgeable you are!
If the professor does not have enough time to allow for this, talk to him or her about organizing a study table or night-time review session for their class that can take place during TF hours. This way, the students can study together and you can oversee and help with their questions while also helping other students from different classes.
You can also make a cool or funny poster midway through the semester to attract new people!
As you know, everyone can benefit from Teaching Fellows if they take the first step to visit hours. Keep up the good work and remember that you are having a very positive impact on the students you see!
Next year’s Lead Teaching Fellows have just been hired, and they’re already getting excited about next year. Here’s a little information about them to help you get to know them better!
Ana Garcia: Architecture
Ana is an Architecture major who is interested in Urban Planning, and specifically in sustainable community development methods that target developing countries. She is also an EMT, an RA, and a Student Athletic Trainer who participates in the Architecture Society. Ana says that as a new LTF, she is most excited about getting to know the TFs of other departments and learning about how other departments work.
Michael Green: Physics
Michael is a Math major who is interested in probability and statistics and hopes to go into a career in one of those fields, perhaps as an actuary. On campus, he plays football, is a Senior Resident Assistant, and tutors for Calculus. Talking about his new position, Mike said, “I am most excited about being able to mentor other Teaching Fellows as a Lead Teaching Fellow next year, and to be able to help them to improve their teaching skills in order to become better Teaching Fellows. I look forward to working one-on-one with the Teaching Fellows that I am responsible for in order to teach them about my insights on how students learn best.” Continue reading
A: “My most rewarding moment occurred when I was working with a student on a concept that was particularly difficult for her to grasp. We discussed it, used examples, drew on the board, took a break, and continued our attempts at fully grasping it. Finally, a light went off, and it all came together for her. She was able to explain it in her own words and provide a concept relevant to her life. It felt wonderful to know that I could be a part of helping her arrive at that place of understanding.”
Q: What is a method that you find particularly useful in helping students learn?
A: “I find that using the blackboard to map out concepts for students is most helpful. Whether we are simply writing a list or connecting ideas with pictures, the students I’m working with usually participate more actively in their learning. After doing so, I’ve noticed that students have an easier time explaining the psychological ideas in their own words.”
Amy is a senior Psychology TF who has eventual plans to do graduate work in psychology.