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April 18, 2024

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Spring Housing Guide

Graduate students admit challenges

Some get nervous jitters, others just strive to maintain their confidence and engage their students, while others take a few deep breaths to calm any intimidation they initially feel.

These are graduate teachers or teaching assistants and examples of ways they cope with anxiety when they first dip their toes in the water of their new teaching career.

“I think when I first started teaching, the biggest challenge I faced was my own level of confidence and feeling as though I was qualified to be there,” said Graduate Assistant Molly Frendo. “Though I knew I was qualified to teach the material, being that I had a bachelor’s degree and an extensive knowledge of the material, it was still very intimidating to stand up in front of a room full of students who are not that much younger than me.”

Frendo is a second year master’s student at the University and teaching her own section of Intro to American Culture Studies for the second time. Although she said her confidence level has improved greatly over time, she still has days where she feels uncomfortable with presenting the material for that day and she has to put herself in check.

“I have to remind myself that I’m the teacher,” she said.

Getting students to take her seriously isn’t as much of a challenge to Frendo. She believes that students know that BGSU wouldn’t put her in front of them unless she was qualified to be there. However, she admits that there are always those students that try to push the envelope with her.

“There are always students who like to push the boundaries to see what they can get away with,” Frendo said. “When comparing notes with older instructors, they definitely push the envelope more with me ” but the trade off, I feel, is that I am able to develop a different kind of rapport with students.”

Frendo said that the best way to prove her authority over her students is to simply not try so hard to be in control.

“That is, never let the students see you sweat,” she said. “The way to prove your authority is to be confident and firm.”

While telling her students upfront that she expects a lot from them and that the class will be working hard, Frendo also lets her students know that she wants them all to have fun as well.

“I let them know that I’m on their side and will do anything to help them out, but they have to be willing to put in the work,” Frendo said. “We work hard but have a good time.”

When first starting out, however, Frendo was overwhelmed by the maternal feeling she had towards her students.

“In a strange way, I felt as though they were my children and I wanted to see them do well,” Frendo said. “I still take it a bit personally when students don’t seem to be motivated to try hard.”

On top of taking some things more personally that she should, Frendo said she was also overwhelmed by students who confided in her about crises they were going through in their own lives.

“I wasn’t prepared emotionally for students to reveal very personal information and it affected, and continues to affect me, deeply,” Frendo said. “In a way, it made me feel very good about myself as an educator that they trusted me with such personal stories, but on the other hand, it was a little hard not to feel overwhelmed.”

Reminding herself that she is an instructor and not a counselor, Frendo knew that all she could really do was direct the students to the appropriate services available on campus.

However, subject material also plays a part in which challenges each graduate assistant faces. In Frendo’s case, her subject deals with issues such as racism, sexism or homophobia, which may bring more students to confide in her about their personal issues.

But in other cases, these challenges may not be the same.

Confidence comes easily to graduate teacher Brad Gosche, who teaches in the Romance Language Department at BGSU.

“I have never had a problem in any of the classes that I have taught with students my age, younger than me or older than me taking me seriously,” Gosche said. “I do my best to set a standard in the first week of classes and go from there with it.”

Gosche said that authority doesn’t need to be proven, it needs to be obtained.

“In respecting ones students, you earn their respect,” he said. “I don’t prove an authority, I expect that my students will respect me as the teacher simply because I am in front of the classroom and that I have studied the subject I am teaching them much, much longer than they have.”

Gosche’s challenges had to do more with prioritizing his time than preparing himself emotionally.

“My biggest challenge was balancing the time it took me to plan for a class that I teach, with the rest of my course work,” Gosche said. “Teaching a class takes a lot of preparation and in doing that, I found that I was letting some of my own course work slide.”

Whether a graduate student’s challenge is internal or external, there are graduate programs for these students aimed at preparing them for these kinds of challenges.

“Programs vary ” there’s a course that grad teachers take before they teach their class,” said Donald McQuarie, director of the American Culture Studies Program. “Some departments devote more attention to training graduate assistants then other departments.”

McQuarie said that past student dissatisfaction with how each department prepared them for teaching lead to the University creating programs specifically aimed at preparing students better.

“The University has really pushed these departments to create these kinds of training programs in the last 10 years or so,” McQuarie said.

McQuarie agreed that some graduate assistants may have bigger challenges emotionally than with the material when facing their first class to teach. However, he said that the course they take that prepares them for teaching aims at helping them through the internal challenges as well as the external ones.

“The biggest job of the teaching course is not so much to prepare students for teaching the material [which they already know] ” it’s more to teach them how to handle the class, how to get students active in the classroom,” McQuarie said,

He also said it’s normal to be nervous the first few days of teaching because no matter how prepared a graduate student is, it’s still a tremendous adjustment.

“That’s a tough, tough day for even the best trained person,” he said.

McQuarie said he greatly enjoys working with the graduate assistants and teachers because they’re very dedicated to their work and truly enjoy what they’re doing.

“All the teaching assistants I’ve ever worked with were so excited about teaching the class and prepared way more for the class than an older, more experienced teacher would because everything’s new to them,” he said.

However, McQuarie said that as the director of his program, he has seen some graduate students who weren’t as successful as he would have wanted, adding that it’s all about the attitude of the person.

MyQuarie confirmed that the idea that some students may not take graduate teachers and assistants as seriously as older professors can be a challenge.

“Sometimes students don’t take them seriously,” he said. “They have to work to win the respect of their students, good teachers will be able to do that.”

Having a true effect on students is the big test new teachers have to pass in McQuarie’s eyes.

“Students are not dumb, they know when they’re being taught well or not,” he said. “I think that the big challenge that new teachers face is to learn how to be an effective teacher, to get the students in class to buy into becoming active learners. If someone can engage students ” get them interested in the subject, the issue of authority just sort of comes along with that.”

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