Good teaching is not a mysterious endeavor. Getting good at it happens step by step. By experimenting and practicing, one develops important pedagogical skills: learning how to integrate lectures and discussions, stirring students to participate, and-in a variety of ways-explaining and illustrating ideas, and modeling and exercising academic thinking. These are not mysterious talents one is born with, but skills that are learned. Those who make it look easy have probably worked the hardest.
autumn the Religious Studies Department unveiled a new seminar to
assist new TAs in becoming good teachers. "Pedagogy: A TA
Training Seminar" served to help TAs develop and hone pedagogical
tools necessary to teaching religious studies at the university
level. The seminar itself was constructed to model an effective
classroom learning environment. Starting with foundational topics
such as "leading effective discussions" and "constructing a considered
grading philosophy," the seminar introduced TAs to their roles as
discussion facilitators, graders, etc. The Teaching Resource Center
served as an invaluable resource in providing the seminar participants
with well-considered tools for facilitating discussions and grading
student writing. As the semester progressed, pedagogical issues
unique to teaching the discipline of religious studies within a
public university occupied the participants. The faculty graciously
provided insights gleaned from years of teaching; these "nuggets"
were usually coupled with humorous anecdotes from undergraduate
courses. The final sessions of the seminar focused on teaching as
an integral component of professional development.
At the start of the semester, despite the plethora of experts in the religious traditions of the world, no augur emerged to foretell how the participants would respond to the Pedagogy seminar. Some of the new TAs were understandably apprehensive at the prospect of taking a course devoted to teaching. Yet the value of the course further merged over the course of the semester. As discussion sections got underway, we shared strategies to aid facilitation; as papers poured in, we sought one another's advice. Towards the end, we offered our frustrations, joys, and support as the semester rushed onward. Although some minor changes will be implemented next fall, the seminar enjoys the overwhelming support of both the faculty and graduate students in Religious Studies. In short, it provides a forum for ensuring the highest quality of undergraduate education as well as offering TAs a comprehensive orientation to university teaching. Overall, the success of this inaugural year bodes well for the seminar in years to come.