4 Graduate Student Teaching Award Winners

We are pleased to announce that four of our graduate students have recently won the Graduate Students’ Teaching Award (GSTA) for Semester 1 AY2016/2017!

Our heartiest congratulations to all, who have done our department proud!

Since Elvis and Sarah are first-time winners, we also took the opportunity to find out what makes them such effective teachers.


Elvis

1. What inspires you to teach?

The want to simply experience teaching, to connect, and to make a positive difference in students’ learning journeys.

Along the way, I realised my students also make up a significant part of my inspiration—their willingness and openness to learning often fuels me to go the extra mile in teaching.

2. What are some of the major challenges you face as a teacher?

I am constantly exploring how I can make the learning experience more durable. Students tend to forget much of the content knowledge they learned, so how can we ensure that their learning lasts beyond the module? To overcome this challenge, I make it a point to connect with my students and remind them of more enduring aspects like learning independently, building friendships, and enjoying the process of learning.

In the classroom, I’m working on listening actively to my students’ responses. During classroom discussion, I usually have specific answers in mind and inevitably looked out for them. The challenge then is to really listen to—and engage with—students’ responses. I am constantly surprised by the interesting insights that students can generate, if we only allow them to!

3. Why do you think you are an effective teacher?

Based on students’ feedback, they appreciated my sincerity in reaching out to each of them. I meet my students with a genuine interest in their learning and their lives beyond academics. I also make it a point to convey my faith in them, and offer them words of encouragement when they encounter difficulties.

Students also appreciated the classroom engagement that we had. I believe that students truly learn only when they are engaged. To this end, I use music before and during class, occasionally include revision games and hands-on activities, and frequently encourage students to contribute to the classroom discussion. All these help to establish psychological safety in the classroom, i.e., a conducive environment in which students feel safe to participate and speak up in class.


Sarah

1. What inspires you to teach?

Love — a love for learning, people, and life. While browsing the education section in my school’s library as a 14 year-old, I came across a book that instantly caught my attention with its compelling title: “Two Parts Textbook, One Part Love”. This motto has formed the cornerstone of my approach to teaching over the years, and continues to inspire me.

I love connecting with my students when we actively construct knowledge and discuss big picture ideas in the larger context of Life. It is always a joy witnessing my students’ Aha! moments of insight! We often think of teaching as imparting knowledge, but I have found it equally true that we learn by teaching—my students have taught me many wise lessons on finding meaning in higher purposes and helping others to find theirs, and it is an honour to share this journey with them.

2. What are some of the major challenges you face as a teacher?

The art of teaching involves a fine balance between simplifying abstract knowledge for our students and empowering them with the opportunity to work these concepts out for themselves. As teachers, we have often already gone through the steep learning process of deconstructing abstract ideas, and may want to spare our students from learning the hard way. Yet, simply transmitting our mental models of the world without giving our students a chance to build their own is a disservice to learning. I strive to tread this balance by modelling problem-solving skills while encouraging my students to explore ideas and make knowledge truly their own. It is my hope that such experiences will cultivate a love for independent, lifelong learning in my students.

As a teacher whose time is currently divided amongst teaching, research, and admin work, it can be an uphill task managing these responsibilities all at once. Still, the journey is fulfilling not in spite of, but because of its challenges. I am grateful for the support of the department, my fellow Cognition and Education Lab teammates, and my students, who always make it all worthwhile.

3. Why do you think you are an effective teacher?

As a teacher, I aspire to bring learning to life, and Life to learning.

In particular, I have found that positive energy in the classroom is essential to build community within it and encourage lifelong learning beyond it. I see it as part of my mission to excite students about concepts and ideas they encounter with a generous dose of humour and enthusiasm, and to challenge my students to think deeply and critically.

At the same time, recognising the boundaries of my current knowledge propels me to seek mastery, and also helps me to be genuine with my students in validating their individual struggles that could once have been or are still mine, even as I maintain high standards for both my teaching and my students’ learning. It is my hope that as we come to see mistakes as positive opportunities for growth and development, we may together overcome our fear of failure to make quantum leaps in our learning and forge ahead to pursue our larger life ambitions.

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