As mentioned in an earlier post, three of our graduate students, Cheung Hoi Shan, Claris Zhao, and Lim Yonghao recently won Graduate Students’ Teaching Awards. We interviewed them to find out what makes them such effective teachers.
What inspires you to teach?
Hoi Shan: I love interacting with students. Much as I feel responsible for introducing psychology to the students, I also learn a great deal from them – through the questions and comments they raised during class discussions. I find that with each semester of teaching, my own understanding of psychology deepens. It also gives me great satisfaction whenever freshmen came up to me at the end of semester to say that they find psychology really interesting, and would work towards taking it up as a major.
Claris: Throughout the course of my education, I’ve been a beneficiary of many responsible and dedicated teachers. Some showed me how big an impact a teacher can potentially make. Now that I have the opportunity, I try to to pay it forward.
Yonghao: Strictly speaking, I am not inspired by anything to teach. It’s something I need to do and I try my best to do it well.
What are some of the major challenges you face as a teacher?
Hoi Shan: Some students tend to be a lot less participatory during class discussions. It then takes a bit more effort to engage them, through getting to know them personally.
Claris: One most challenging issue is in enabling students to see the value of their efforts as extending beyond the “end point” of a good module grade. Grade-focus is understandable given the competitive pressures and heavy workload. But if students can look beyond that, learning can become much more enjoyable and probably also much more fruitful
Yonghao: I think the greatest challenge I face is how to make students understand that there might not be any ‘model answers’ to questions they may encounter. Of course, handling the frustration (I’m sure everyone who teaches knows this) of students asking ‘what is the answer to this question’ when you know that there is no single perfect answer.
Why do you think you are an effective teacher?
Hoi Shan: In order to engage the students, I would make it a point to know most of their names by the second class. I do this by asking the students to tell me something interesting about themselves in the first class, which would help me remember them better. I find that being able to know the students personally helps in encouraging them to contribute to class discussions. I would also try to make the discussion sessions a bit more interesting by starting the class with a short introduction on the history and background of the topic under discussion, highlighting why the topic is of interest and importance in Psychology, and how it may affect us on a daily basis. I found this “story-telling” approach rather successful in capturing my students’ interest.
Claris: The teacher holds the power to establish a conducive classroom atmosphere. Within the freedom to me, I try to pay attention to both motivational as well as intellectual needs. For example, during interactive discussions, students would see their viewpoints being valued in the spirit of learning. Room is created for them to approach the topics with active curiosity and contribution, not as mere passive receivers of content covered.
Yonghao: To me, an effective teacher is an effective learner who practice what they preach. I am not saying that I am an effective learner but whenever I teach, I lead by example e.g. using the skills, reasoning, knowledge and techniques I use myself. In addition, it is important to treat your students as intellectual equals who are capable of providing insights, comments and suggestions that can enhance the learning environment.