Things I learned During My First Semester of Teaching

This semester I taught my first class. The topic? Theatrical Sound Design. I learned a lot from teaching this class. Some were surprises and others were more reaffirming than new knowledge. As a way to reflect on some of these observations, I would like to share them with my readers.

How each student is different

This might seem like an obvious fact, but it still came with some surprises. At the beginning of the semester I sent out a survey that included the question “how do you like to learn/learn best?” This took some time when researching the varying learning styles. I wanted to include as many varieties as I could find. What I learned about my students is that most of them do not like to learn through a linguistic approach, such as reading. Whereas I do. Most of us shared a desire for a kinaesthetic approach. This pushed me to incorporate as much hands-on learning as I could. I found that tailoring my teaching style to the class made me feel more confident and challenged me as a teacher.

There were also several facts that became even more cemented in my mind. A student’s reception to being taught and absorbing information is a sliding, varying scale. Some students are not receptive to being taught. Trying to teach someone who does not want to be taught is the equivalent of trying to teach a brick wall. This feels like a disappointment to me and difficult to not take personally. If you are anything like me, finding ways to challenge this intrusive thought is important as an educator as well as an individual. Remind yourself of the students who are open to you and want to learn. This doesn’t even have to be exclusive to your students. It could be a friend or peer you are imparting knowledge to.

Remember, each student is going to be different. They bring their own motivations into the classroom.

Teaching taught me how to break bad habits

I am naturally a very empathetic person and it serves me well as an educator. However, I can often have very high expectations. Not just for myself, but for others I work with. This can sound like a decent characteristic to have. Most people desire quality. However, it is very easy for me to project expectations onto people without discussing them. This is where things can get difficult. Teaching new students has taught me how to challenge this bad habit. Most of my students are first-years or students from outside the department, so expectations need to be flexible. The goal is to strengthen the creative mind with a focus on sound design. I have noticed that this flexibility and understanding has allowed me to enjoy my work more.

Teaching this class has given me the opportunity to enjoy what these students bring to the table while also having healthy expectations for them. This is something I need to practice and strengthen for myself when working with peers and colleagues. So not only has this been good for the relationship I have with myself but also when working with others. Any creative mind can think like a sound designer…As I mentioned before, my class is not exclusively for audio students. I have several students from the school of music, Lighting, and Scenic designers, and a whole row of Stage Management students. Every single one of them is capable of being a sound designer and hopefully, this class has proven that to them. Yes, there is a lot of learning beyond this statement that comes with being a sound designer, but
at its core has a sense of creativity and willingness to question possibilities. This idea wasn’t a big surprise to me, but more of a surprise to some of the students. I remind students that stretching the creative process and considering how other design elements work with yours can only strengthen you and your design. And for many individuals that have already been reflected in their work.

How often my students surprise me

And this leads me to how often I am impressed by these hard-working individuals. Reading design statements from Lighting students that consider every emotive shift and how sound can enhance that. Stage Managers detail each sound cue in their cue sheet. Listening to students answer questions and apply their understanding to discussions with their peers. These are moments I appreciate and carry throughout my busy week. They still come as a little surprise and hope that doesn’t go away.

How difficult it is to teach the mechanics and physics of sound

Teaching others felt like an opportunity to relearn and strengthen preexisting knowledge. This is especially true for topics I struggled with during my first year as a sound student. It can be really challenging to teach a topic that you don’t enjoy or don’t feel confident in. However, I looked at this as an opportunity for me. Any videos, articles, and demonstrations I found for lectures were also learning material for myself. I think a lot of people will agree that the physics behind sound is not their first choice when picking a topic to be excited about. What I learned from teaching it myself was that I had a far more successful lecture if it had hands-on elements. This wasn’t a lecture I could rely on to read from slides and have them take notes. What this meant was there was a lot of drawing on whiteboards, recap/what do we know quizzes, and lots of what-if experiments that I demonstrate within a DAW. This included hearing/sine sweep tests, summation, and cancellation of sine waves, the doppler effect, as well as how the Haas effect works. I found that having a recap at the start of each class period really helped me know what I needed to resolidify in my teaching. I also did a brief quiz at the end of each lecture. It wasn’t worth more than 10 points and had a max of five questions. I used these quizzes as a way to evaluate what I am teaching well and what needs to be gone back over. This felt like a great use of quizzes because it wouldn’t ruin the student’s grades if they didn’t do well. It was easy points for them and a great way for me to check my teaching as an educator.

Always wait a slightly uncomfortable amount of time until a student speaks with thoughts/observations/or questions. Someone will always break the silence and it often leads to a bigger group discussion or someone has the same question. I learned this trick from several professors during my undergrad. It was something I told my students on the first day of class. I consider this engagement with lectures and discussions to be crucial for the learning process. And oftentimes it will lead to a larger group discussion with like and differing opinions. It is a way of sharing information that goes beyond me lecturing the information to students in front of me. Most first-year students have a very busy schedule. So this was also an opportunity for them to get to know their peers. Our department is small and knowing like-minded people to work and learn with can be pivotal for some students. I think that is why a momentary uncomfortable silence for students can actually be really helpful for their overall learning experience. Maybe slightly cruel and
uncomfortable, but worth it.

As we move into the last few weeks of this semester, my students know to expect awkward pauses and will speak their thoughts more openly. This characteristic was taught to me early on in my education and it’s gratifying to see it being instilled in others. I can see its positive effects on students who regularly engage and ask questions. Teaching this class was the highlight of my semester and will be bittersweet to finish out the class in December. It reaffirmed my love for teaching and being a big nerd about audio and sound design. I don’t think this will be the last audio class that I teach, but it was an excellent first experience.

To my students, thank you for such a lovely and laugh-filled semester

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