Learning my way through teaching part 1: My fears and my syllabus

As a graduate student in the English program at California State University, Fullerton, I’m able to teach English 101 as a Teaching Associate. This becomes an option for all grad students once we complete at least one year of tutoring in the writing center while assisting in an English class. Each student must apply and interview, then the qualified are offered a class during the fall and spring semester. This blog series follows me through my first semester of teaching and each blog post features a specific topic or issue I came across as a new instructor. 

Every time I sit down to work on my class syllabus, I wonder how long it will be before the English Department at Cal State Fullerton (CSUF) takes back their decision to let me teach English 101 as a graduate Teaching Associate. Many people assume this means I will be assisting a professor, but no, I am actually responsible for the class – scary! As a second-semester graduate student in English at CSUF, my colleagues and I have the opportunity to get our feet wet before diving in. This year, there are twelve of us who will teach as well as meet for a class every week to assist us in teaching. I am equal parts excited and scared. For most of my life I’ve wanted to teach and now, here I am, and I can’t wrap my head around it. I have so many questions, and twice as many fears:

“Will my students realize I am the absolute worst when it comes to grammar?”

“How many times will I have to ask students to put away their phones and when I do, will they listen?”

“Am I really qualified to teach other people how to write an essay?”

“Will gamifying my class work out or be a total disaster?”

“Am I even planning this class properly?”

So. Many. Questions.

Yet, I keep working because I am fortunate to have this experience before I enter the highly competitive college job market. I have worked my way through the main text of the syllabus (including calculating percentages, which was not fun #EnglishMajor) and am now working on the 16-week schedule. Where do I put due dates? How much time is the right amount for each assignment? Will they understand my instructions? Would I have hated this assignment as a student?

With all of this being said, I want to learn from my students and my colleagues and I am going to share the lessons learned with you. I will share my experience through the very end of the semester, including assigning final grades. It is my hope that the lessons I learn can be useful for anyone considering a career as a college-level educator.

I also want to show other students what it’s like being new to the teaching game. I hope that through this series, you’ll take it easy on any grad-student-taught courses you encounter while in college, realizing that it’s not easy to be both the teacher and a student.

Up next: My First Day

Dianna Blake

Dianna Blake

Dianna graduated from California State University, Fullerton with her Bachelor of Arts in English in May 2015 and is remaining at the university to complete her Master of Arts in English. Once she finishes her degree she plans on teaching college-level English and literature at a community college. As a mother of three while attending college, Dianna works to balance her school and family life but finds great joy in both. She most recently published her own book, College Success for Moms.