Notes From a First-Time Educator

This was first published on my public newsletter. Edited for Medium format.

I was tagged on a post about adult teaching from a forum I frequent, and I thought I’d publish my answers here to make it available to you. Although this was primarily for product design and user experience courses, I tried to make it as flexible to most subjects popular with remote teaching.

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Have your notes ready

Tips on landing a job/gig as a TA/Co-instructor without past experience:

- Get in touch with those schools you are interested in teaching part-time for. Aside from the managers, instructors and the school itself, ask students themselves. People in schools like GA are generally approachable, dynamic and incredibly well-rounded. The diversity of knowledge, skillsets and backgrounds you’ll encounter will help you determine which course to teach/focus on.

- Just like any job application, prepare your resume and portfolio (if applicable) and tailor it to the job you’d want. For aspiring UX educators, remember that a ‘portfolio’ goes beyond the grid of design work you’ve done. It could also mean things like: events you’ve organized, communities you helped built, microblogs you’ve started. It’s the collection of the most substantial, real-world work you’ve thrown yourself into, documented in forms of blogs, github pages, private google slide decks, or even notion accounts.

- Tap into the professional organizations, niche forums, virtual meetup groups to expand more reach, and to attract serendipities (you’ll never know who you’ll meet) which can potentially help you find the perfect teaching gig for you.

- Write about what you want and turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy by sharing it to people. Write why you’d want to teach, what you’ll teach and maybe some core topics around it.

Now that you have the job…

- Read, and research like hell. Be a step ahead of everybody so you’ll always be confident. It’s also great to have a handy set of reading list for your students (on any given topic).

- Say hello to Google Suite, Microsoft Word and all the other amazing documentation apps. You’ll need them especially with remote teaching.

- Take a moment to get to know your students. Have a 1-on-1 chat with them on what their goals, needs and aspirations are. I don’t have any other teaching experience aside from adult education so I don’t have anything to compare it to. I would just say one thing: they are the brightest, most relentlessly hardworking bunch of people you will ever meet and they are often serious about the courses. This will help you ensure that you, the curriculum and the teaching experience itself will help cater to their needs. From career changes to just pure skillset-advancement, every student has a different goal post-course. It’s best to identify them as thoroughly as you can.

- Identify where you will fall short, and accept that. Rather than making it seem like you know everything, it is so much better to admit those shortcomings, and learn them, or bridge that gap by seeking assistance (with your co-instructors). In my opinion, students can always tell when people are faking it.

- Mentor, if you have the capacity. Or better yet, find ways to connect students with potential mentors, and other professionals. This will go a long way especially to those who are looking to advance their careers. Who better to assist them with that than you?

- Seek criticism regularly. From students themselves to instructor managers, find areas where you can be better, and actually work on it. You are a product of iteration, and you will serve others best when you make informed & educated decisions about your next move. Resist your own biases by constantly challenging yourself to make the next class better than the last.

- Try to have fun. There are a lot of things to do, to keep up with, and organize. It won’t be as effective if you’re not having fun. It’s one of the things that will make the long hours, interrupted weekends, and weeknights worth it.

Schools, bootcamp institutions you can get in touch with: General Assembly, Career Foundry, City College of New York, Flat Iron School, Hack Reactor, and maybe even your local community colleges.

Not quite ready to teach a big class yet?

You can always start small, and do mentorships (paid or pro-bono). There’s no shortage of people looking for mentors in their fields. More importantly, if you are getting paid to do something, I think have something to teach yourself, regardless of how small you have to start.

Still interested? Join me & a bunch of other mentors across tech on this Brooklyn-based platform, RookieUp. Other organizations offering mentorship services: HexagonUX, Girls who code, Girls write now, Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City and many others.

I’ve also wrote a quick starter guide on how to be the mentor you’d like to meet from my newsletter #7.

MIND THE GAP

Your work will be hard, but there are students facing more severe challenges. Students with no internet or no computer will need support, as will those with learning differences or other circumstances that make distance learning especially difficult. Supporting these students was on almost everyone’s mind — it came up dozens of times in the Facebook thread.”

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On the intersection of life and work. No in-betweens. http://nikkiespartinez.com/projects

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