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Students as Teachers: Lessons Learned from the 2007 K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award Winners

Students as Teachers: Lessons Learned from the 2007 K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award Winners

Change Magazine

I left the store feeling defeated but knowing that I had other options. I was fairly certain that if I contacted the modem manufacturer and explained the situation, they would ship me a new modem. Indeed, this is exactly what transpired. The more I thought about the situation, however, the angrier I got. I suspected that this technician had probably taken advantage of many people who were not aware that they had other options.

As I talked to others about the incident, I realized that this situation is all too common. It seems that technical people and tech-oriented retailers perpetuate a myth that computers are difficult to understand and that a person needs a significant amount of specialized knowledge in order to maintain, upgrade, and troubleshoot them. Making the public believe this is in the company’s best interest, as it secures them a steady stream of revenue. I realized that, as a computer scientist, I had a responsibility to society to subvert this myth.

That same month a second life-altering event occurred that gave me an opportunity to do exactly that—my research assistantship fell through and was replaced with a teaching assistantship. In my new role, I had the opportunity to spend the next several years as the instructor of record for introductory computer-science classes, and I took this as the opportunity to spread my newfound sense of social responsibility. In doing so, I slowly began to realize that teaching was the most rewarding activity in which I have ever engaged. I found that the dissemination of knowledge is a challenge in itself, and I came to realize that teaching is one of the few endeavors that allow a human to have a positive, lasting impact on society and culture. I brought up relevant computer-related social issues in the classroom and explained to new computer-science majors that it was insufficient for us to simply understand computers and technology; we must go beyond that and teach others about them as well.
—Tarsem Purewal, Jr.

2. They have a calling to teach and mentor, inside and outside of the university, and have prepared themselves to do so well.

Even as an undergraduate at Florida State University, I mentored other undergraduate students by advising and counseling them on their academic coursework, employment opportunities, student organizations, and graduation requirements. Also, I have been heavily involved in the mentoring of at-risk populations. I have been affiliated with the Foundation for Adolescent Mentoring and Education, in which I assisted in after-school activities and tutoring of youth who have had conflicts with the law. Additionally, I have implemented programs and activities at Bear Hill 4-H Camp designed to teach teamwork and true friendship to underprivileged teenage girls. I have also voluntarily mentored many segments of the incarcerated population by instructing GED classes and assisting in group-therapy sessions for male offenders. Currently, I volunteer as a mentor at a woman’s correctional institution, where I meet each week with a group of offenders to discuss topics such as depression, body image, domestic and sexual violence, and anger management. These women are close to release and need guidance and knowledge to return to the community with the hope of living safe and productive lives. I recently discovered that my commitments to the prison population could be united with my commitments to undergraduate teaching through a new service-learning technique known as the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program.

To enhance my teaching and commitment to learning, I have attended numerous teaching seminars and workshops on campus and have completed a year-long higher education teaching-certification program that required four courses, a classroom observation, and the development of a teaching portfolio. These experiences made me truly reflect on and refine my teaching. But although these seminars are valuable resources, it is the desire to make my students functioning and contributing members of society that guides me most in the development and improvement of my courses.
—Amy Cass

I had several opportunities to become involved with teaching teachers during my graduate-school career, particularly through the Graduate Teacher Program (GTP) at the University of Colorado. I began by developing a workshop for beginning teaching assistants for the GTP’s teacher-education program. Finding the experience rewarding, I applied for the GTP’s Lead Graduate Teacher position for our department. In this role, I took responsibility for leading multiple workshops for beginning teaching assistants in our department and mentoring their teaching throughout their first year. I received explicit leadership training from the Graduate Teacher Program in preparation for this work, along with the message that I was expected to become an advocate for good teaching practices in my future career—a mantle I assumed with enthusiasm.
—Sarah Wise