Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Some thoughts on teaching

This morning, I attended a workshop on how to develop and write a teaching statement, which was given by Donna Bailey of UNC's Center for Teaching and Learning. It was a very helpful session, indeed.

Those of you who know me know that at this point, I am still in a discerning process, trying to decide what I want to do for the rest of my career. For the moment, I am an Adjunct Professor of Chemistry at Campbell University, based at their Morrisville campus. When I'm not teaching, I am the Organist/Choirmaster at St. Joseph's Episcopal Church in Durham, in addition to serving as Organist for the Episcopal Center at Duke University.

With all that out of the way ... it is indeed a good thing that I am gaining teaching experience with the Campbell position. I am enjoying teaching, and believe that this is where my future lies. I'm not really sure I'd want to go back to research, however - after a year and a half away from the lab, I can honestly say I don't miss it. At all. I miss the camaraderie I shared with fellow scientists, both near and far, and I miss seeing my scientist friends I met whilst attending conferences, most notably those from the ICRS.

At this point, I am forging my own path. I am asked to design a Chemistry course that can be taught mostly on-line. What I have been doing with my 101 and 111 courses is utilizing Blackboard by placing lots of resources and Powerpoint presentations containing the book material on-line. Face-to-face class time has been reserved for hands-on practical experience in the lab with experiments designed to compliment the concepts being taught in the course. I have received a lot of help from the Chemistry professors at the Main Campus, most notably Dr. Lin Coker and Dr. James Jung. It seems to be working - the students I have taught thus far have responded positively to this approach.

As far as the actual writing of a Teaching Statement is concerned: this is where I run into difficulty. Sure, I can expand on my silly little plot bunnies that have been running circles around my head and biting my ankles, but having to put my thoughts about teaching, and my goals concerning it is a different thing altogether. Some very interesting thoughts came about from today's session: in one way or another, we all have been teachers, whether one teaches Sunday School in church, or teaches a child how to do things around the house, or even at play. So it made me think, what have I done as far as teaching others is concerned?

I have extensive experience as a Teaching Assistant in Organic Chemistry from my days as a graduate student at Clark University as I've had to TA almost every semester I was there. This experience was very useful as I set up the lab portion of the two Chemistry courses, as well as the Chemistry component of the Forensic Science course I team-taught. I tutored a couple of friends when they were taking their General and Organic Chemistry courses. I also mentored high school students from the NC School of Science and Math whilst a post-doc at North Carolina Central University. Going further back, when I was a post-doc at RTI International, I was mentoring undergrad students from NCCU, mostly teaching them about how methods in computational chemistry can be applied toward the design of drugs for medicinal purposes.

My non-science teaching lie mostly in the music fields: teaching a lab-mate's daughter how to play the piano, for example. She was seven years old at the time, and very keen to learn. She made so much progress in a year, I was quite sorry to see her go as her father, who was a fellow post-doc, obtained an academic position in Tennessee. I encouraged her to continue her piano studies, and hope that she is doing so. I believe she would be about 14 or 15 years old now. Zuki - wherever you are, I hope you're doing well.

Of course, with my church organist job, I am also working with my choristers and other musicians. It's definitely a leadership position, one that I never thought I'd be in, especially after seeing my friends Allen, Richard, Ben, Van, and Tim in action with their own choirs. There is teaching involved with that position as well - teaching my choristers new songs and such. They received quite a sense of accomplishment after having worked on Richard Proulx' arrangement of Boyce's Alleluia Round. I am also expanding the congregation's hymn repertoire as well. I was told they stuck to the old familiar hymns with little variation. I learnt through my experience singing with St. Stephen's and Chapel of the Cross' choirs that learning new hymns needn't be a difficult experience. Most of the hymns have enough verses that with repetition, the congregation will be able to pick it up well enough, particularly with strong leadership from both the organist and the choir. And of late, I have received compliments from the congregation about the hymns that I've chosen, and how they were appreciative at having the chance to sing new hymns they hadn't sung before.

So I suppose taken together, all of what I've written thus far can be somehow pulled into a statement of my teaching experiences. As far as my goals are concerned: that I'll have to think about. I can say that it has given me pleasure to know that I have imparted knowledge to people who are willing to receive it. I will be one of the first to admit that Chemistry is not an easy subject to learn - in some respects, it's almost like learning a different language, or even a different way of thinking altogether. However, as I mentioned in a previous post, it is quite rewarding when a student comes to understand and appreciate a topic s/he has been struggling with, and most especially, with my 101 students, that they appreciate Chemistry for what it is, instead of fearing it because "it's too hard" or "there's too many things about Chemistry that scare the living daylights out of me."

If I can get through to students like that, as far as I'm concerned, I've done my job, and all is well with the world.

Finite Incantatem

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