Today I taught my first ever in-person class to people, since having a teaching contract (about two years now). I’ve done similar forms of teaching as a student assistant many years ago for a variety of courses, but it somehow feels different as a teacher. Today we taught biodiversity. I’ve taught the same course last year, but all via Zoom. For this particular course – as it has relatively few students – we are teaching the hands-on sessions in presence form this year. In today’s paper dissection session we had the students read a short paper, and answer a set of questions in small groups. Each group answered their question in a prepared ‘quick ‘n dirty’ poster, which they then presented, and was followed by a discussion after.
I immediately felt the huge difference between the online format, and the presence format. Non-verbal communication goes a long way in these kinds of classes. A nod of agreement. A frown. Hesitation to raise a hand. All these things are harder to pick up via online teaching, but are easy to spot and act upon in real life. In presence, teaching immediately becomes more interactive. As a result, we had lively discussions, instead of series of monologues, as we sometimes had then in Zoom. It took us a couple of sessions last year to get people to really engage. Don’t get me wrong. Last year’s group was excellent. People are just shier in online exercises. Today, day one of the course, we had excellent and in-depth discussions, in which most of the students actively partook. I’m very amazed.
I’m one of those teachers that is nervous before every teaching session. Perhaps it’s normal. Maybe we’re all nervous. In that case, many of us are pretty good at hiding it! The reason why, at least for me, is simple. Students impress me all the time. I was remarkably unremarkable as a student myself. I only discovered my academic capabilities late in my student life, long after struggling my way through the courses. I’m constantly in awe of the level that many students have. Having been severely mediocre myself (failing 10 out of 12 first year courses), and laughed at a lot for this by several of my peers, this somehow stuck with me. I just know that many students I have now, are better than I was when I was a student myself. I guess I’m nervous because as a teacher I’m supposed to ‘know it all’. Spoiler: I don’t. I have tried to catch up since those old days at university, but growing up in an environment that labeled you as the mediocre guy, it tends to scar you a bit. But hey. I survived today! The students were nice. Hopefully I can help them understand complex matter, using some of the analogies that have helped me understand them in the past, and still help me to this day. After today’s ice-breaker session, at least I’m looking forward to the next!
Oh, one final thing. Aside from being my first presence teaching, it was also my first all German teaching experience. I’m pretty proud of that!