Can you hear me now?

Last spring was the first semester that I had ever taught in a classroom setting.  It was for a class where I was the TA, and was asked by the professor to give a single lecture.  Luckily, it was for a small class of 8 students.  After many hours of putting together a very detailed, long, wordy powerpoint, I went into the week before delivering the lecture feeling as though I was ready.  But, I have to admit going into the class the day I gave the lecture, I was really nervous, and ultimately ended up flying through the lecture, as I paced back forth in the classroom.  It wasn’t pretty.  In fact, I can remember one of the girls in the class looking at me with that shocked, confused kind of face… Kind of like this…

So after that class, and seeing that face, I went back to the drawing board.  Luckily for me, this occurred early on in my graduate career.  The first lesson I learned… I needed to be more prepared.  I was teaching a class in genetics course, and I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the material.  I understood the basic concepts, but needed more preparation before I taught a lecture.

Later that same month, I had to deliver a scientific seminar in front of our entire department.  I am actually in some ways relieved that the lecture I gave did happen prior to my seminar, as it made it much easier for me to realize my mistakes and areas needed for improvement.  When I was better prepared, I felt I had more confident and had more command over my seminar, but not too much.  I think my issue was more of lacking in authority, than being too strict.  I also felt it allowed me to be more engaging with our department as well as more credible.

Second, I changed my voice.  I think this goes along nicely with the prepared-ness part.  But when I was better prepared, I was also more confident.  And when I was more confident, it showed in my voice, as I was easy to hear, clearer, and more convincing.

And lastly, when answering questions after my seminar, I was more genuine.  I was to the point that I felt so comfortable with the material I was speaking about, it made it very easy for me to have a little fun with the questions, and be more approachable, genuine, and show some humor.

I think what it boils down it to is the saying “Fake it til you make it” does not work when teaching a class or delivering a seminar.  If you do not feel 100% ready, it will show.  I think the cornerstone of any lecture, seminar, and presentation is to be prepared.

Now I’d like to share a video that I think works well with last week’s topic on games involved with the classroom.  Magic, the Learning Horse Youtube Video   In the video, you will see the owner teaching her horse to conquer his fear of walking in water.  I think if we can make the classroom a little more like this, students will have more passion to “jump” right into the topics being discussed.  As you can see, Magic happens to be quite passionate about splashing water.  Games just might be the “CANNON BALL!!” that we need to get kids into learning.

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4 thoughts on “Can you hear me now?

  1. I like how you mention that sometimes it’s necessary to go back to the drawing board and rethink your teaching strategy or voice. I’ve only taught one class before, although I’ve done it for three semesters now. Even discussing the same material each time, I rethink how I want to do it in different sections of the class or in different semesters based on my students and how engaged or interested they are, which I think ties in nicely with your opening paragraph and the picture you included.

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  2. Yes to what Betsy and Alexandria said…but also: the horse video is wonderful! Yes, the person is “teaching” the horse, but she’s also improvising. When the horse distrusts the stream and won’t carry her across, she dismounts and helps him relax by splashing the water (“see – this is the stuff that’s in your bucket, and comes out of the hose, and falls from the sky…it’s fun stuff, necessary stuff — and you like it, right?). And of course he does like it and starts splashing around himself in no time. The video shows how nuanced inter-species communication can be, and also suggests that effective teaching is situationally aware.

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    1. I have had the same confidence issue before in presentations as well as in classrooms, and I did the same thing as you – ended up going too fast. I feel like preparation or a complete understanding of the subject is one side of the deal, the other is to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on ourselves by putting ourselves on a pedestal and recognize that it’s ok to not know something perfectly even when we are teaching.

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