I have always been passionate about teaching and that is what sent me to Texas A&M University to pursue a PhD in English Literature with a specialization in Shakespeare pedagogy. I taught briefly as an assistant teacher at the University of Ghana, Legon before coming to A&M for my PhD training. One of the reasons I picked the A&M program was its emphasis on teaching training. Unlike other universities, A&M’s English PhD built into its core program an extensive teaching system for all PhD students, and from your first semester to your last (if you don’t get a dissertation fellowship) you will be given the opportunity to explore your teaching potential and improve on the rough edges before you go into the job market. So, I picked A&M because I knew I will have ample opportunity to hone my teaching skills for life as a full-time professor after I am done with my program.
As an African man with disabilities coming to America, I had my apprehensions about how I would be received in my classrooms here in College Station. I had never taught non-Ghanaian students before and my only experience of the American education system was the one-year high school exchange I had in Washington DC. I had my ample reservations about teaching American students.
In our part of the world (Ghana and Africa generally to some extent), student-teacher relationships are very rigid, and respectability is very much an important element in the classroom environment. So, we tend to have a perception that American (and to some extent Western) schools have rowdy and disrespectful students. The way students talked back to teachers in my high school experience did not do much to douse my perception. I therefore came to College Station with excitement tempered by anxiety over teaching students face to face in Texas.
I have to say that I have had a pleasant surprise with my time here at A&M. A very happy one at that. Aggies are some of the most respectful students you will ever find in the world. In my time here as a graduate student teacher, I have had mostly happy moments in my classroom experience. I am not sure whether this is a Texas thing or the impact of the military program, but Aggies are very respectful and considerate of teachers, including international teachers. I have taught eighteen classes in my four years here at A&M and have had only a handful of disrespectful and unruly students, an average that I believe stands favorably with teaching anywhere in the world, including Ghana.
In my experience, Aggies tend to be a little shy at the beginning of classes. If you don’t prod them, they are likely to be less talkative than other students I have encountered. My strategy for enlivening my classrooms is to make myself available and open to my students both for office hours and after office hours. A significant number of them tend to come by the office, and after I work my charm on them during office hours and they realize that I value classroom discussion and contributions from students, they enthusiastically become more talkative in my classrooms. I tend to favor discussion-heavy classrooms and this strategy helps make it a much better classroom environment for me. I have also seen that dividing Aggies into groups and promoting group-based discussion and responses helps relax students to their peers and I often get my students talking more after group discussions.
Overall, I’ll say that it is a pleasure teaching Aggies and I will say that anyone looking to come here will have the students as one of his or her assets in the classroom. You’ll definitely love the Gig ‘Em
Spirit, and I definitely have so far. #GoAggies #Gig‘Em
Umar is a Ph.D. student in the Department of English