For over 40 years, ESG has served as a place to explore and develop educational innovation in undergraduate teaching. As the program evolved, upperclass students from ESG who had excelled in their GIRs found themselves helping the new classes of first-year students, in large part as a way to keep connected to the ESG community after their first year. These unofficial TAs enriched the ESG community and offered a unique teaching perspective to the incoming classes. They had recently been through the material that the first-year students were seeing for the first time, and they understood the freer, more discussion-based teaching style that lies at the core of the ESG experience. Eventually, ESG began to hire these upperclass students, and the ESG Teaching Seminar was established as a means of supervising and offering pedagogical instruction for first-time TAs.
The role of the Teaching Seminar in ESG’s overall mission
ESG’s style of education is based on the tenet that teaching and learning processes are symbiotic and that students learn in a more profound way through the process of teaching others. Having mastery over material is one thing; being able to impart that understanding to someone else is quite another. Through the process of teaching, ESG students develop a deeper appreciation and understanding of the subject. ESG TAs who have come through the Teaching Seminar report that they gain confidence and skills that serve them throughout their academic careers and beyond.
TAs learn how to work with peers in a teaching role, how to set appropriate boundaries, and how to work effectively within the expectations of both their students and their supervisors. TAs act as liaisons between ESG teaching staff and the first-year students, and they serve an important role in helping the staff stay apprised of student progress and anticipate potential problems. By working in small groups and one-on-one with first-year students, they help staff get a pulse on a given group of students. Staff can thus adapt their pace (slower or faster depending on how students are grasping material) and can use different approaches to teaching material when desirable. Thanks to this close connection, teaching staff need not wait until mid-term exams to get a fair sense of how their students are performing.
The ESG TA program provides a continuity that serves the ESG community in multiple ways. First-year students get the benefit of having motivated TAs who are peers, adding a powerful and empathic dimension to the learning environment. TAs are closely monitored and receive regular practical feedback that guides them through the process of teaching. Teachers are given the opportunity to encourage talented students to come back to ESG after their first year to TA, and then can see these students develop throughout their entire undergraduate careers.