Letitia Henville, Department of English, UTSC

2015 CI Teaching Excellence Award

DID YOU ATTEND ANY OF THE PROGRAMMING OFFERED BY CTSI/TATP? HOW DID THE CERTIFICATE PROGRAM OVERALL CONTRIBUTE TO YOUR DEVELOPMENT AS A TEACHER?
I completed the AUTP program, which gave me both a series of practical skills that I could use in the classroom and also the time and space to reflect on the big picture of my pedagogical practice.

YOU RECEIVED A 2015 TEACHING EXCELLENCE AWARD. WHAT DOES THIS RECOGNITION MEAN TO YOU?
It’s one of the most important accomplishments of my career as a PhD student. I don’t consider myself a ‘natural’ as a teacher. I took a year off to teach at a university in France between my MA and the first year of my PhD, and, without training or experience in the classroom, regularly felt ineffective and frustrated. It was only when I returned to the University of Toronto and began to talk to excellent teachers about their teaching—my peers, my own instructors, and the profs for whom I TA’d—that I began to shape my ideas about what deep learning, and, in turn, good teaching, look like in practice.

This recognition, coming as it does from my former students and the faculty members I’ve worked with, suggests that the work I’ve put in to developing as a teacher has paid off. I was very surprised, and very thankful, to have found myself recognized this way.

CAN YOU RECALL A TEACHER WHO INSPIRED YOU?
I’ve had the privilege of working as a teaching assistant for two award-winning instructors in the Department of English at the University of Toronto: Dr. Vikki Visvis, the 2012-13 winner of the ASSU’s Ranjini (Rini) Ghosh Excellence in Teaching Award, and Dr. Nick Mount, the 2011 winner of a 3M National Teaching Fellowship. I deeply appreciate the generosity with which they gave their time and their perspectives as I grew into my own as a teacher, and greatly admire their individual approaches to the literature classroom.

I’m also very fortunate to have joined U of T’s English Department in the same cohort as a number of excellent graduate student Course Instructors, whose skill, dedication and commitment is awe-inspiring. I feel privileged to have had long, involved conversations about the classroom with CIs as brilliant as Joel Rodgers and Morgan Vanek.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO NEW CIs?
I use a few tricks that I learned from TATP courses: I design my syllabi backwards; I facilitate structured small-group discussions; I clarify what excellent participation looks like in my classroom (beyond simply talking a lot).

But, honestly, the thing that has made the biggest difference in my teaching has been having conversations with teachers who I respect. So, my advice is: ask instructors and TAs who you respect out for coffee or a beer, and offer to pay in exchange for asking them a few specific questions about your course or their course. Then, listen to what they say, and use your judgment to determine what’s right for you. Repeat regularly over the course of at least three years.