The Alan J. Perlis SCS Student Teaching Award
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh PA 15213-3891
(412)268-8525 . (412)268-5576 (fax)


Brendan Meeder, 2007

Throughout high school and college I was fortunate to have experienced truly great teachers. A great teacher not only needs to clearly present facts or opinions, but also needs to inspire students. Motivating students requires exciting content delivery, stimulating and interesting questioning, and a genuine interest in the students' learning. In SCS, many of the professors do some combination of the above things. A few professors are truly extraordinary in all of these aspects and I've used them as role models for my teaching style. I've also had the opportunity to work with and exchange stories with many other TAs. There are many strong undergrad TAs here and we all learn from each other's successes and failures.

For me, seeing a student succeed is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. TAs attempt to give problems that instruct and challenge students. Sometimes problems are particularly challenging, and the aha look on a student's face when that key idea hits them is really great to see. It's also extremely rewarding to work with individuals on a more personal basis in small study sessions. In this setting students can come out of their shell and ask questions without feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed. I also enjoy working with strong students and covering additional material the class isn't covering.

Something that really upsets me is catching a student cheating. I think a lot of people in the department understand when we truly give something our best effort. If we put our heart in the work and fall short, we're far better off than if we cheat.

Some advice to other TAs – Try teaching by asking questions. This forces students to think about what they are doing, rather than being told what to do. I don't like telling students what to do, as it's much more enjoyable to hear the creative ideas that they have. You can learn a lot from students who come up with amazing ideas that you haven't thought of. Don't let them wander too far down the wrong path, but let them at least try to discover their mistakes. Finally, be approachable. Try to be a student's peer, and not their superior. Work though problems together, say hi to them when you see them around campus, and tell them that they can approach you for advice about classes after the semester ends.

Most importantly, I want to thank the many students I have taught over the last two years. You have helped me grow into someone who wants to teach for a living, and it's your effort and questioning that make TAing a wonderful job.

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