My Experience Being A Teacher…As An Undergraduate

Last year, I discovered that a couple of my friends were teaching their own classes through the Honors Program – even though they were still undergraduate students.

Through them, I found out that the Honors Program allows for undergrads to teach their own section of the one-credit discussion course, IDH2930 (Un)common Reads with another faculty member.

It was surprising to see it, because I did not think I could truly teach during undergrad, even as a TA.

As soon as my friends told me more about how they got the teaching opportunity, and how I could get it too, I immediately emailed the Honors Program and started the process toward co-teaching my very own class.

After contacting the Honors Program, you should have an idea what you want to teach and who will teach it with you because undergrads are not allowed to teach by themselves.

I had no idea what I wanted to teach at first, but I know who I wanted to teach it with – Dr. Nancy Ruzycki.

She has been my professor since sophomore year, I have taken multiple classes with her and have also been her TA.

The next step was picking a topic we wanted to teach on. For the (Un)common Reads course, each section typically has to be centered around a book.

I tried finding a book that was worthy enough for a whole class to be dedicated to, but I have not read anything that fits the bill except for books that I read when I took IDH2930 both semesters of my freshman year.

I struggled to look for a topic because there are many facets to this problem.

The topic I chose had to be both something I am passionate about, but also one where I can get my students to be passionate about as well.

This lead to silly ideas like finding books about the materials science of baking, manga, just anything really. Then a lightbulb turned on in my head and I realized, “Why don’t I pick a topic that I am passionate about?”

It was there that I realized that I should teach a class on a topic that I am passionate about – promoting the growth of equity for marginalized groups of people.

More specifically, marginalized groups of people in the STEM community.

That’s how I developed my course with Dr. Ruzycki, “Different in STEM: Confronting the Ignored Lack of Diversity in the STEM World Today”. However, the name got changed, because it was too long, to “Different in STEM: The Homogenous Reality of Scientists and Engineers”.

That was probably the easiest part of this whole entire process.

The next part was learning how to teach. I met with Dr. Mark Law, head of the Honors Program here, and he gave me weekly lessons on how to teach.

While that was happening, I had to develop a curriculum with Dr. Ruzycki for the course, but thankfully she knew what to do and helped me with it. After that long process, I can successfully say that I am now teaching the course, and it is quite an experience.

Even though it’s a discussion centered class, I was still nervous.

It is a class I am in charge of, and students are using one of their credits toward it.

I wanted to make sure I wasn’t wasting their time and making them regret taking the class.

As a student myself, I am sympathetic to them. I don’t want to bombard them with work and make the class too hard for them.

Due to the nature of the topic, however, things have to be a little hard for the students because talking about the lack of diversity in STEM and the lack of equality as well forces people to confront their internalized biases and work to become better advocates.

It forces me to do the same as well, too, because I want to grow as an instructor, especially since I am teaching the course next semester.

Another aspect I was not expecting was the coordination involved with teaching a class.

For my class, we had to find speakers that experienced marginalization in STEM.

This involved finding people who were free during the class meeting times and also the dates posted in the syllabus.

This involved me sending out close to 50 emails to various faculty members and members of the community, and anxiously waiting to hear if they would reply.

What also needed to be coordinated was releasing assignments and opening discussion boards for students.

You can’t release assignments too early because students might not have the relevant background information for them, but you also have to give enough time for students to complete assignments to the best of their ability.

Additionally, assignments have to be planned out based on the lessons you will be teaching.

Would it be better to serve as a precursor to the next lesson? Make the assignment due after the lesson so students can synthesize information? These are important questions to ask when figuring out how to structure your class.

As a teacher, you also have to throw your own personal biases aside.

With the (Un)common Reads classes, you have to have a minimum of five students and can have a maximum of 15 students.

Because of this small class size, you really get to know your students better.

In my case, I have an easier time too because we had to split the class into two sections due to Dr. Ruzycki being scheduled to teach a lab course during our original time.

Because I talk to my students and hear about their experiences in my class.

However, students might say things that go against my personal beliefs. It’s my job as an instructor to not let my personal biases get in the way of teaching students.

That’s always a challenge, but the class isn’t about me. Instead it’s about the topic in general.

I’ve always wanted to teach. When I was pre-med, I wanted to earn an MD/PhD so that I could teach.

When I switched career tracks because I realized I only wanted to focus on engineering, I still knew I wanted to teach in the back of my mind, whether it be an engineer that’s an expert on materials or being a professor at a university.

Through the work I’ve done so far, it’s confirmed my desire to be a teacher.

Thankfully, I get to teach the class again in the Spring. If you’re interested in taking my course, it’s IDH2930 section 24910. I’m excited to teach more and for the opportunities it can arise from it.