Reflection Essay

This teaching portfolio is the culmination of over five years of training, experience, and thinking about teaching at the university level. Teaching has been an important part of my graduate experience, from being a GTA for four semesters in three different classes, both in-person and virtual, to attending many pedagogy classes and workshops, and to compiling this teaching portfolio. My experience in each of the classes and through the TILT teaching certificate has been an integral part of my development as a teacher.

My first experience teaching at the college level was as a GTA in an introductory biology lab, where I reinforced concepts from the lecture and helped students run small biology experiments. My first semester of teaching was learning a lot of the basics of teaching, like time-management and planning lessons. I was surprised by how difficult it was to manage the time for the lessons and experiments at first, so I practiced timing myself and choosing the most important information to emphasize in our short class time. During this time, I also tried to encourage student participation and ask the students a lot of questions. I practiced explaining concepts in many different ways, because I found that not all students would understand the first explanation and everyone benefited from different examples and repetition. With the course structure well defined by the lead instructors, I was able to focus on building the foundational skills a teacher needs to be successful.

My next teaching experience was for two semesters in the Plants and Civilizations course, in which I taught several on-line discussion sections during the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Teaching virtually tested and stretched my teaching skills in new ways. We modified much of the class content and structure to fit in a virtual class section, and I had to be flexible with new content and modifying assignments for our situations. This course emphasized writing, and I was able to practice grading and giving feedback on assignments and helping students to clearly express their ideas through writing. I was able to see my students’ writing improve when I gave them lots of individualized feedback. It was also during this time that I started to emphasize belonging in my classroom and trying to make my students feel like valued members of the class. I included several inclusive pedagogy techniques in my classroom and tried to accommodate all my students in the space. In particular, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of my students’ lives were complicated and they were dealing with mental health challenges, deaths of family members, and other difficult circumstances. I developed a lot of empathy for my students as we all tried to be flexible and work through a really difficult time. It was in this class where my teaching philosophy of emphasizing student belonging and critical thinking was solidified.

The third class that I taught was an upper-level Ecology class. My formal teaching responsibilities were minimal in this class, since it didn’t include a lab or recitation, but I had the opportunity to develop assignments and lectures. I developed three Reading to Learn lectures and assignments for this class. I was also able to prepare and give a full-length guest lecture. This was an important step in my development as a teacher, because I could practice thinking about the students in my class and how to support their learning through my assignments. I also was able to sit in the lecture portion of the class, which has prepared me better to teach all aspects of classes in the future. Shortly after being a GTA for this class, I further practices developing instructional materials and lesson plans in a Teaching and Communicating Science course that I took.

The backbone of my development as a teacher during graduate school at CSU was the Graduate Teaching Certificate through Institute for Learning and Teaching. Through this program, I attended many workshops that taught me invaluable skills about pedagogy. Many of the workshops I attended focused on aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion in teaching. This specific training was very helpful when I applied it in my own classroom. For example, I learned about inclusive commenting, started diversifying the content of my lectures to highlight contributions of minoritized individuals, and I am more equipped to notice and call out discrimination and harassment in my classrooms. Through these workshops and trying out different techniques in my classroom, I developed the student sense of belonging portion of my teaching philosophy. Another very influential part of the certificate program was learning about the Teaching Effectiveness Framework, which divides teaching into seven interwoven domains. The workshops and materials related to each domain have been important resources as I reflect on my own teaching, make goals for my improvement, and research evidence-based practices that I can use in my own classroom.

Through my teaching experiences in three different courses as a GTA and the training I received through the TILT program, I have become a much more informed and prepared teacher. I have developed a passion for teaching and training the next generation of innovative scientists, leaders, and change-makers, and with the foundation I have built here at Colorado State University, I am excited to continue to learn and improve my teaching to reach even more students in the future.