By Kathryn Trentadue
During my fourth year of chemistry graduate school, I learned about an opportunity for graduate students with an interest in pedagogy: the Kaneb Center’s Postdoctoral and Graduate Associates (PGAs). Each year, the Kaneb Center hires several graduate students and/or postdocs to help with running workshops, writing blog posts, and providing teaching consultations. This program isn’t just for those who are already perfect teachers though (which is good because I’m certainly not perfect!). Instead, PGAs focus both on teaching others how to teach effectively and on continuing to grow and become better teachers ourselves.
The last year has brought changes to my priorities and goals, which have led me to abandon my original plan to enter academia in favor of pursuing an industry position. While my goals have changed, I firmly believe that the value of my experiences as a PGA has not, and I want to share a few of the things I’ve learned.
Teaching Skills Are Communication Skills
One of the primary duties of a Kaneb Center PGA is to lead workshops on a broad variety of teaching-related topics. Some of those workshops may be adaptations of previous workshops, while others are created by the PGAs based on their interests. One of the biggest takeaways I got from leading these workshops is that teaching skills are relevant in much broader contexts than simply the classroom. Fundamentally speaking, good teaching is about good communication. The skills that we learn in order to effectively communicate new ideas to our students, holding their attention, clarifying confusing topics, and making ourselves approachable for questions, are all at heart skills based on establishing communication with our students and then using it to transfer information and skills. Communication is a fundamental part of our daily lives, both personal and professional, and developing the skills needed to communicate effectively has been an excellent investment of my time.
The Benefits of Co-teaching (and Collaboration)
One of the best parts about being a Kaneb PGA has been the community. Working with both the other PGAs and other Kaneb Center staff has taught me a great deal and presented me with a variety of perspectives I hadn’t previously considered. I had never co-taught anything before this past year, but as a PGA co-leading workshops is the norm. The chance to teach with someone else, with each of us bringing our unique experiences and ideas, has been fantastic both for providing the best possible workshop for our participants and for continuing to learn and grow myself. It has also helped me to develop valuable collaboration skills, which are applicable to many areas.
The Importance of Inclusivity
Last semester, my fellow PGAs and I jointly selected a pedagogy-focused book that interested us, What Inclusive Instructors Do: Principles and Practices for Excellence in College Teaching. Over the course of the semester, we read through it, discussing the ideas presented and how we might apply them in our own classrooms. One thing that struck me during these discussions was, again, how broadly applicable many of these ideas are. I work in a field that is heavily male-dominated, and while I have been fortunate enough to work in very inclusive environments, I have also seen what happens to those who aren’t so fortunate. On the flip side, the clear advantages of cultivating groups containing a wide variety of people, backgrounds, and views when it comes to promoting problem-solving and generating ideas have also become apparent to me. The need to create welcoming and inclusive spaces is certainly not confined only to academia, and taking the time to consider what factors contribute to feelings of belonging, both for myself and others, has already proven relevant.
Broadly speaking, working at the Kaneb Center has taught me a great deal about effective communication and collaboration which I will carry forward into my professional life. Even if I don’t intend to use teaching skills directly, those skills are relevant to a whole host of other situations, and I anticipate these experiences will prove directly useful to me. After reading this, perhaps you too are interested in promoting good pedagogy at Notre Dame. The Kaneb Center is currently accepting applications for next year’s batch of Postdoctoral and Graduate Associates – consider applying today!