Through the support of the Minerva Exploration Grant I participated in an online education course at Finger Lakes Community College in the spring of 2020. My goal was to learn educational techniques and strategies to apply to my work at COCOA house (Children of Our Communities Open to Achievement). I was especially interested in practical activities to promote reading comprehension, improving engagement with math lessons, and generating a more socially conscious curriculum. As a tutor and supplemental instructor, I also saw the value in broadly improving my teaching abilities.
Union offers many opportunities for students to serve as peer mentors, tutors, and other forms of informal educators, but does not offer formal education classes. Through education classes at a local community college I hoped to gain useful skills that would enhance my own teaching abilities and would allow me to share this information with other volunteers and tutors on campus.
During the course I learned about the history of educational practices and the transition to more student-centered learning. The course also covered the complex roles of race and gender in education and the ways in which the modern education system favors affluent and predominantly white communities. Finally, we discussed the goals of modern educators and the need for educators to have a growth mindset towards their students. This material provided a useful theoretical background to understand my own education and the experiences of others. Unfortunately, I did not learn specific strategies for improving my teaching abilities as I had hoped.
My experiences suggest that, due to the emphasis on teaching history and theory, traditional introductory educational courses are not the best way to enhance the teaching abilities of Union students. Instead, for students who are educating others but not planning to pursue education as a career, informal teaching seminars and opportunities may be more effective. Offering courses or lessons on effective teaching strategies to tutors and peer educators may enhance the quality of education that Union students are able to provide to each other, and to the broader Schenectady community.