Adriel Weaver, Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies

2013 TA Teaching Excellence Award

Adriel Weaver, a PhD student at the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies and a 2013 recipient of the Teaching Assistants’ Training Program’s (TATP) Teaching Excellence Award spoke with Bulletin editor, Kelly Rankin about the importance of the TA training program, winning the teaching excellence award and the teachers who inspired her.

WHAT TEACHING ASSISTANT TRAINING PROGRAM ARE YOU ENROLLED IN AND HOW HAS IT HELPED YOUR TEACHING?
I’m registered in the Advanced University Teaching Preparation certificate program, and was excited to attend a workshop on teaching effectiveness and professional development earlier this month. I brought along Geo, the black Labrador retriever puppy that my partner and I are fostering for Dog Guides Canada.

Geo started coming to school with me last November. I worked hard to teach him to be calm and quiet in classes and meetings, so I figured a workshop would be no problem. Unfortunately, however, that sweet little puppy has now hit the canine equivalent of the “terrible twos,” and he began to bark to let me know he wasn’t happy. Sara Carpenter, the workshop facilitator handled it beautifully. She said, “Yes, there’s a dog in the room – he’s a learner too.”

Carpenter had been discussing the fact that we often talk about teaching and learning as if they were two different things. To demonstrate what she meant, she showed a cartoon of a Charlie Brown-esque character telling a friend that he had taught his dog to whistle. When the friend observed that the dog wasn’t whistling he replied, “I said I taught him to whistle. I didn’t say he’d learned how.” Although Geo and I weren’t able to stay long, I continue to reflect on what I learned that afternoon.

I know Geo is a dedicated, enthusiastic, and effective learner who loves mastering and showing off new skills, and I strive to be a dedicated, enthusiastic, and effective teacher, who is invested in his success. But, despite our best efforts, my teaching and his learning don’t always connect; an insight that is now part of what I bring to teaching.

I don’t mean to suggest that students are just like puppies – for one thing, none of my students has ever tried to eat my cell phone – but in moments of frustration I find it helpful to remind myself that failures and disconnects don’t necessarily reflect the quality and commitment of either the teacher or the learners. More often than not, they’re indications that we need to keep trying different strategies to bring our efforts and abilities in line with one another.

YOU RECEIVED A 2013 TEACHING EXCELLENCE AWARD. WHAT DOES THIS RECOGNITION MEAN TO YOU?
It’s always nice to hear that you’ve done a good job, especially when it’s something you care deeply about, so I’m very grateful to the students who nominated me as well as all of the students who gave me feedback throughout the year and worked so hard to make our classes successful.

U of T students are sometimes maligned as marks-obsessed and disengaged. That hasn’t been my experience at all, and I think the hundreds of nominations that are submitted each year for this award speak to students’ desire for meaningful learning experiences and personal connection, not just good grades.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO STUDENT?
Take responsibility for your own learning. I wish it weren’t the case, but the fact of the matter is that at this level – and perhaps especially at a school like U of T – students have to take the initiative to access resources, identify opportunities, and connect with faculty members. I know that can be challenging, especially for students who also have to meet work and familial demands, commute long distances, or who are simply more reserved, but I can’t stress enough how important it is.

Start small – just staying a couple of minutes after class to chat with your instructor or TA or visiting your registrar’s office to discuss course selection can make a significant difference in your experience.

CAN YOU RECALL A TEACHER WHO INSPIRED YOU?
There are so many that I’m afraid to start naming names in case I forget someone! I will say that I am continually inspired by my supervisor, Mariana Valverde, and the other faculty at the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies, all of whom share and model a commitment to teaching excellence and community engagement as well as rigorous and innovative scholarship.