"What did I get myself into?" was the only thought in my mind when I began this preceptorship. As a 2nd year Blue Chip student who had only just completed her First Year Experience herself, I felt incredibly overwhelmed and under-qualified to act as a teaching assistant for this class. It was difficult to imagine what kind of assistance I could contribute to the class. I found myself challenged by my discomfort with public speaking and inability to ask for directions when needed.
Over the course of the first several weeks of classes, my instructor (Sadie Randall) and I both found ourselves in foreign territory. She, having never instructed a full course before, and I, having never been anything but a student enrolled in a class. Despite the daunting nature of the task set before us, I found our opening lessons of defining leadership to be incredibly helpful. Not only did this allow us to gauge where the class stood in terms of their understanding of leadership, but it also allowed us to understand what learning styles and facilitation methods worked best for our students.
Many of the activities Sadie and I facilitated this semester were fresh on my mind from when I was enrolled in this same class. As a T.A., however, my roll in the classroom fell into more of a bystander position rather than an active participant. This gave me a new perspective on the exact same curriculum I had gone over a year prior, as I noticed differences in how these students approached challenges presented to them versus how I and my own peers tackled them. For example, during the paper tower building activity, I noticed how many of the students struggled to form a cohesive team as they were placed with complete strangers and asked to collaborate. A majority of the groups found themselves unable to communicate with each other as ideas clashed. Eventually, a few groups settled on allowing each member to work on their own structures for the tower in hopes that when pieced together, the whole thing would work out. The team that stood out to me the most was one that sat together to come up with a basic structural plan for their tower and created an assembly line to finish. Each member of the team had a shared vision and anticipated the needs of their teammates and it showed when they won the challenge. It were moments like these when I understood I could learn more by engaging with my students and seeing their different leadership styles in practice.
Zoom was the very first activity I facilitated in the classroom. When it came time to stand in front of the class and direct the activity, I felt ill prepared and unable to do what was asked of me. My lack of confidence was evident in my reluctance to lead an activity in the first place. I found that my biggest challenge both inside and outside the classroom was finding the confidence to stand in front of a group of my peers and lead them through activities that they themselves were unfamiliar with. My top 5 strengths revolve around being an empathizer and a supporter when it comes to working with those around me. I had little to no experience with being the one to call the shots nor being in the spotlight. Sadie aided me greatly with this. While she understood that I had trouble with stepping out of my comfort zone, she encouraged me to take baby steps in leading class check-ins and giving instructions for small activities while she debriefed, eventually leading up to leaving me in charge of the award ceremony at the end of the semester. I became more and more comfortable with being in front of the classroom and helping students where I could.
Over the course of my preceptorship, I continued to learn more about myself as both a leader and a student the more I immersed myself into the curriculum. Regular meetings with my instructor allowed us to plan ahead for what we wanted to accomplish that week. My only professional experience up to this point had been working in the food industry and I quickly learned to adapt to working in a more professional environment. I learned to be more aware of my own behavior and what I could contribute to make my instructor's life easier both inside and outside the classroom. Whether it was supporting Sadie during lesson plans and jumping in with my own knowledge when necessary or preparing materials in advanced for class, I grew to appreciate the increase in communication and support I found around me. Even discussing engagement tactics with my fellow preceptors helped to constantly improve how smoothly our classroom ran.
Hands on activities such as It's All in the Cards were especially helpful in seeing the progress made by the students themselves. With sensitive topics such as oppression and stereotyping, it was enlightening to see how students handled discussions on topics like racism, poverty-based discrimination, and inclusive language. The later it got in the semester, the more students became comfortable with each other and voicing their opinions. It were these lesson plans that taught me how to maintain a neutral and welcoming learning environment for those of all backgrounds while keeping a constructive discussion alive. Many times I found myself exposed to different points of views that came from all sorts of background that had lasting effects on my own ways of thinking about the world around me.