The ins and outs of instructing

Robert Taylor

Julie Katz, senior intervention specialist major, finalizes an attendance sheet for her orientation class. Katz teaches an orientation class for students with majors in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Credit: Steve Schirra

Every full-time student at Kent State must pass University Orientation to graduate, and unlike most other major universities, Kent State trusts its undergraduates enough to let them teach the class for an entire semester.

Becoming a student orientation instructor comes with a variety of worries, problems and difficulties, but about 125 student instructors deal with it every fall semester.

Julie Katz, senior intervention specialist major, has served as a student instructor for three semesters and teaches 25 students once a week.

“There are many reasons a student can become interested in teaching orientation,” Katz said. “If someone’s orientation instructor was really bad at his job then the student can sign up thinking that he can make it better for future orientation students.

“I had a good orientation instructor and I became interested in teaching because I liked public speaking and I thought that I could learn a lot and improve my leadership abilities.”

After signing up to become a student instructor, Katz was enrolled in a two-credit hour seminar class and taught how to instruct freshman students in an orientation class. Several sections of this class are offered every spring and are taught by a team of two experienced student orientation instructors.

Katz said she enjoyed her time learning to teach orientation, and that her teaching team over-prepared her for the classroom to ensure she could handle any situation she might encounter.

Because University Orientation is a semester-long class, instructors take classes focused on more in-depth looks at the university, the world around them and their reactions to it, Katz said.

Among the topics potential instructors are taught are lectures in diversity, time management, study skills and ethics. While taking their training courses, instructors must make lesson plans for these topics and others, working their own ideas into guidelines set by Undergraduate Studies.

“I spent a lot of time on those lesson plans and I had to go back and tweak again and again to make sure it (was) perfect,” Katz said. “I spent hours making sure that everything clicked, the activities were fun and the discussions were relevant.”

Once students have completed their lesson plans and prerequisites for passing, they are given an exam over topics such as university history, current grading guidelines and GPA calculation. Once that exam is passed, the students are ready to teach.

Orientation instructors are assigned one of more than 100 sections of orientation, preferably one in their college, for the fall semester. With the assigned section comes a professor, adviser or graduate student from the college the student instructor will teach in. Together the faculty and student instructors will collaborate over every lesson, every assignment, grading and more.

Every faculty partner is different. While many are hands-on and work well as a team, others overshadow the student instructor or barely participate at all, Katz said.

Katz began teaching orientation in the Fall 2004 semester.

“I’m not sure how to describe the experience of my first day of class,” Katz said. “It was scary in some ways but still fun. I thought I was only supposed to teach 14 students but ended up with 29 at the last minute, so it was a little intimidating, but the freshman students were so receptive I ended up loving it.”

In addition to teaching and meeting with the faculty partner to plan upcoming classes, new and returning student instructors must attend a Student Instructor Seminar class, which meets once or twice a week.

During this class, student instructors discuss problems they have with teaching, ideas they have for activities, problem students and anything else that pertains to teaching orientation class.

Katz said she feels the SI Seminar is necessary for student instructors teaching their first orientation course but not necessary for returning student instructors.

“As far as being a new orientation instructor, it is necessary to take that class because there comes a point where you might become unmotivated to work for your class during your first time teaching,” Katz said. “(The class) pumps you up to be a better instructor because you are working with other people for a common goal.”

All the preparation for teaching the class, her SI Seminar, her faculty partner and other outside academic stresses sometimes take their toll on Katz.

“Teaching orientation can be really stressful and I just don’t feel like teaching sometimes because it can be so hard and tricky,” Katz said. “But when I actually get into the class and see my students, my mood seems to change and I end up enjoying it.”

In a majority of orientation classes, student instructors are responsible for recommending grades for the freshmen to the faculty instructor.

Katz, who graduates in December, said she is grateful for the opportunity to do good work for so long.

“I really like connecting with the freshmen and learning about them, because I honestly feel that we can make a difference in the students’ lives if we work hard enough and bring enough to teaching,” Katz said.

Contact graduate/undergraduate studies reporter Robert Taylor at [email protected].