- Create a good classroom atmosphere - i.e. Don't stand at the front of the room preaching to students. Sit down and make eye contact with everyone, smile and sent out positive body language.
- Involve everyone. I felt this was really important having been in tutorials as a student where we spent one hour in awkward silence because the tutor didn't open the room for discussion. I wanted to make sure that everyone had some kind of input in the class, no matter how small.
- PLAN. For every class, I made a handout which served as a guideline of how the session would run. We could deviate from the points made in the handout but it just meant that if discussion ever felt silent, we could move on to the next "order of business."
- No fear! This goes both ways: no fear for the students and no fear from me. Any piece of poetry, film, novel or play we discussed (and was on the syllabus), I made sure to photocopy extra copies and bring them with me. So if a student hadn't read a poem, having the photocopy there in class allowed them to still be involved in the discussion. We watched select parts of a DVD on my laptop to illustrate different points, for example. And having photocopies meant that I could get the students to read out a poem or a section from a play, thereby involving them in the seminar and grabbing the attention of fellow students.
So, these points essentially became my teaching manifesto. And so far, they served me well. The classes I taught featured a varied age range, varied amounts of males and females (one seminar entirely female, and one predominately male for example) and week-to-week the size of the groups changed constantly. I feel my planning and attitude to teaching allowed me to cope with the unexpected: e.g. the week before Easter break, just two males turned up for my class on Ted Hughes. This could have been awkward but in fact, it turned out to be one of the more enjoyable sessions as the three of us were able to unpick the poems in detail, looking at imagery, literature history and typical themes found in Hughes.
I was lucky enough to spend two weeks teaching Plath which was a dream come true. I really wanted to teach Plath well and I think to some degree I succeeded. I wanted to perplex my students and shatter any illusions they had about Plath. The all-female class had some great discussions - particularly because the age ranged was varied. Many of the mature students had wonderfully insightful comments to make about Plath's maternal poems, whereas the younger females were more attracted to the fiery pieces of 1962. Teaching males about Plath was a very interesting experience also. I asked all of the students to read the poems aloud,and it was particularly interesting to hear males read 'Stings', 'Lady Lazarus' and 'Edge' aloud. Personally, I was interested to learn how male readers interpret Plath and perhaps I was just lucky to be teaching male students who had very keen observational skills, because some of the comments and conversations about Plath and the holocaust/WW2 were so interesting and refreshing.
All in all, my teaching experience was an overwhelmingly positive experience. I enjoyed leading a class, I enjoyed doing the prep-work beforehand and although marking essays is widely thought of as tedious; I enjoyed reading most papers, writing comments constructively critiquing the work. Being a college instructor/tutor is challenging, worrying and stressful - but those few moments where you can see a student truly connecting with a text make it all worthwhile. I only hope that I can continue to have the opportunity to teach and grow as a teacher.
As always, I'm interested to hear other stories about tutoring: good and bad!