4 Steps to Cultivate an Authentic Teaching Style for Graduate Students


As graduate students, TAs are one of the most important elements within the higher education structure and are directly related to millions of undergraduates based on the quality of instruction.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some 135,000 graduate students work as teaching assistants in American institutions of higher education. The work they perform reaches from teaching sections, grading assignments, and mentoring students during office hours to even creating entire courses.

4 Steps to Cultivate an Authentic Teaching Style for Graduate Students

(Photo : PEXELS / Andrea Piacquadio)

As graduate students navigate these roles, this effectiveness often rests on the infrastructure available for their training. In so doing, the growth of teaching centers, the appearance of teaching certificates, and a broad array of programs concerned with pedagogy and student learning have profoundly strengthened graduate students with confidence and competence in their instructional roles.

Although such programs provide valuable tools and knowledge, they still overlook an integral facet of teaching practice: the teaching style of graduate students. In teaching, there is an important place for authentic teaching: self-expression and genuine engagement. Below, four steps are suggested by Michel Estefan to help graduate students explore a teaching style that is informed by research but deeply personal.

Step 1: Begin with Values

The basics of any teaching style come from the core values that drive the instructor. A large part of modern pedagogical training focuses on learner-centered approaches. Good teaching involves considering the interests and experiences of students. However, educators are not vehicles for students' interests; rather, they bring their values and histories into the classroom.

First, graduate students should begin to consider what value system informs their desire to teach. This could be a brief written reflection in relation to questions such as: What makes them passionate about their educational journey? For some, it is the sensitization done by a past teacher who enlightened one's interest in learning; for others, it is because of justice and representation of people they feel have been sidelined in the education sector. The ability to recognize the core values will form the building of an individual's authentic teaching foundation.

READ MORE: 10 Dos And Don'ts For New College And University Leaders 

Step 2: Identify the Rewards and Obstacles of Teaching

Graduate students should be aware of what brings them the greatest joy and what challenges they face in teaching. This kind of self raises awareness about which teaching practices best fit their natural inclinations and strengths. Some will find themselves elated by the prospect of lecturing and sharing intellectual passions, whereas others work best in the one-on-one interactions of office hours to get trust and build empathetic relationships with students.

Equally important is becoming aware of those teaching activities that make the greatest demands upon effort and discipline. For some grading is a tedious activity; for others, the dynamics of a large lecture are a challenge. By becoming aware of these preferences/areas of challenge, graduate students can adjust their teaching methods to their own personalities and find ways of managing those tasks that are less enjoyable to them.

Step 3: Establish a Critical Understanding of Self-Presentation

A critical step in the evolution of a signature teaching style would be to raise one's critical self-awareness of how the facilitator's positionalities associated with one's social identity impact dynamics within the classroom. It is about considering, as Erving Goffman had, some of the purposeful and spontaneous cues instructors display in the classroom.

Graduate students should consider the impression they provide to their students and how it might affect the way they teach. Things like gender, race, set of words, gestures, and even attire can have a bearing on student participation and trust. Proper understanding of these dynamics efficiently makes graduate students aware of how they carry themselves and, therefore, retain the most authentic feel in teaching style while shaping the most positive learning environment possible.

Step 4: Ground It in the Research Literature

Finally, graduate students need to check their teaching style against empirical research as a way of best practice and knowing how to handle deviations from them. Knowledge of the research behind one's decisions puts instructors in a position to knowingly act in a manner that is respectful to the values and outcomes desired of learning.

For example, if equity is a core value, instructors can use research to inform concrete approaches in creating an inclusive classroom. Instructors might also learn how specific practices like using complex vocabulary can inadvertently exclude students. Knowing these pitfalls allows for adjustments in instructional practice that facilitate students being comfortable and supported.

Helping graduate students link their teaching identity to experiences, values, and aspirations is very important; they are probably the most vital actors in the educational mission of colleges and universities. Beginning with values, identifying joys and challenges, developing self-awareness, and finally connecting the practices to research can be some of the effective ways through which graduate students seek to cultivate teaching styles that feel both genuine and impactful. Ultimately, one of the most significant learning experiences is when teachers and students can both be themselves in authentic ways.

RELATED ARTICLE: 3 Key Changes Needed In Graduate Education To Align With Post-Graduate Realities 

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