Monday, September 03, 2007

How to discuss your potential as a TA, with no past teaching experience

Vince writes:

I'm interested in a teaching assistantship, but I don't really have any formal teaching experience to speak of. Any tips on how to sell myself as [a] potential T.A. in my personal statement?

Since I think it provides good instructions on how to deal with your situation, I'll take the following quotes from Syracuse University's highly selective MFA program, which only accepts 6 Fiction and 6 Poetry students per year and is one of those schools that offers--to use Seth's term--"elite" funding (in the form of fellowships and TA-ships). Mr. Saunders and his crew state that "you are not expected to have formal teaching experience before coming to SU"; however, as part of your application you must provide a 600-word teaching statement (aside from the personal statement) that discusses your interest in teaching as part of your graduate program. The instructions for it are as follows: "Describe the skills and experiences that make you an effective and committed teacher. How is teaching related to your intellectual interests and career goals? Have you ever been a tutor, classroom teacher, or coach? If not, what experiences have prepared you for teaching, including work, community service, or developing your own strategies of learning? Draw on these experiences to explain the skills and philosophy of learning that you would bring to teaching."

By comparing the amount of bold text to the amount of normal text in the above set of questions, you can see that you still have a lot to talk about, even if you've never taught in a formal setting. I'd format such a teaching statement in the same chronological way that I'd format the personal statement: by describing how past experiences have shaped me into the excellent TA that I would be within the program, and how working as a TA at present will have an impact on my future as a teacher/writer. So, the first part of your essay should describe the experiences that will make you an effective and committed teacher--including work, community service, and developing your own strategies of learning; it should also mention the skills and educational philosophies that you gleaned from such experiences and will bring to the undergraduate classes that you will be teaching (and how these skills/educational philosophies would benefit undergraduates and the department). Then, the second part of your essay should outline how the experience of being a TA will feed into your future career goals after the program, and into your intellectual interests: how will it help you grow as a writer? If you address these things in detail, as well as anything else you'd like to add, you'll find you have much to convey even if you've never taught/tutored before!

Lastly: do use the teaching statement and personal statement as well as the creative writing sample to demonstrate the quality of your writing. Crafting is important as well as content!

Any other suggestions on how people can speak to their potential as a teacher by referring to non-teaching experiences would be much appreciated.

2 comments:

Vince said...

This is very helpful. Thanks!

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