Program teaches aspiring

by Kelly Hildebrandt

A typical class at the University is usually presented to students in lecture format. Fifteen minutes into the lecture, students’ minds start to wander while pens are busily doodling.
But if graduate students interested in teaching at a university participate in Preparing Future Faculty, they will learn how to combat this all too common problem.
The solution: do something interactive like small group discussions to get the students thinking again, said Roberta Cullen, a professor in the program.
“Graduate students at the University don’t often find themselves in a culture that supports excellent teaching,” Cullen said.
Every year, about 150 students register for the program. It instructs graduate students interested in teaching higher education about the best techniques to use.
It also educates students about faculty roles at a University and allows them to examine the role they want to take by working with mentors from about 20 area colleges and universities.
Traditionally, the model was if a faculty member went to graduate school, they were qualified to teach. However, that isn’t necessarily true, said Mitch Albers, a biology professor at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Albers is also a mentor for students in Preparing Future Faculty.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who are teaching who really shouldn’t be,” Albers said.
The classes themselves use the techniques the students are being taught, said Jan Smith, a director of the program. This includes active learning, where the students are asked to participate instead of just being lectured.
“Students need to think,” said Tomoko Hoogenboom, a graduate student studying Japanese who recently finished the program.
Hoogenboom said she likes the idea of student involvement because students are paying tuition and are there to learn, not just get lectured.
Cullen, who teaches a course on professional communications, uses a number of techniques to help students present information better, including a mock interview and a 20-minute practice lecture. These exercises instruct the students on how to use visual communication and get students to participate.
Cullen, who also observes graduate students teaching, cited an example of how the class helps students.
She observed a graduate student who had students read an article and then asked them what the main point of the article was. Cullen said the graduate student was faced with total silence, even though previously all the students had been participating freely.
The situation could have been avoided if she had posed an open question to the students like, “What were some of the main points you saw in the article?” The question isn’t so pointed and invites opinions as opposed to a specific answer, Cullen said.
In addition to learning different teaching methods, students are paired with a mentor to learn about the faculty role and what kind of institution they want to teach at. At this time, students also teach three class periods at the mentor’s college or university.
“The graduate student really gets an eye-opening experience at what it is like to be a faculty member,” Cullen said.
Through the program, Hoogenboom decided she didn’t want to be on faculty at a large research university like Minnesota because she wants to focus on teaching.
“Nobody is a super person,” Hoogenboom said, explaining that at a research university, faculty are expected to do research on top of teaching and faculty meetings, which leaves no time for life outside the job.
Hoogenboom, who is also a teaching assistant at the University, said teaching at a different institution taught her how different student populations can be, which affects how the class is taught.
Albers said the program gives students experience in the field and a chance to sit in on faculty meetings.
“It’s really nice to see the faculty’s daily life,” Hoogenboom said.
Not just the students benefit from the program, however.
It gives the mentors an opportunity to experience new teaching techniques and reflect on what they are doing, Albers said.
The graduate students are being taught by the leaders in the teaching field and pick up new techniques and use them when they teach their classes, Albers said.
“Hey, I see it’s working, I’ll try it,” he said.