The Mark J. Stehlik Introductory and Service Teaching Award
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh PA 15213-3891
(412)268-8525 . (412)268-5576 (fax)


Margaret E. Schervish
2013 Introductory and Service Teaching Award
(Inaugural Award)

When I was offered my first job as a course assistant for 15-121 in the spring of 2010, I thought of it as a way to gain experience as a TA and as a stepping stone along the way to courses with higher numbers. Instead, I found the favorite part of my CMU experience was working as a CA for 15-110 and 15-112 (ironically both lower numbers). I considered leaving the 110/ 112 staff for higher-level courses several times before I took some time to reflect after the Fall 2011 semester. During this semester I was fortunate enough to teach the most enthusiastic and fun group of students with the most talented teacher I know as my recitation partner. This brought to light all of the wonderful things that I love about this job - the responsibility of acting as a role model for students during their first semester at CMU, challenging myself to communicate more clearly, and being a part of the energetic 112 team with CAs who were as excited to be there as I was. Once I was able to reflect on how happy this job and the students made me, I decided that I would continue to be a CA for 15-112 because I wanted to and because it made me happy, not so that I could put more things on my resume. However, I have learned more in this past year of 15-112 than I ever planned on when I decided to remain part of the team.

To dispel the notion that you don't learn anything by TAing the same class over and over, I'd like to share a few short, concrete tips I've learned through the past three years of teaching.

Spring 2010-Fall 2010
When I was new to teaching and also relatively new to the material I was teaching, I was nervous about presenting material in recitation or even answering students' questions in office hours. The most concrete way I found to help with this was to set aside time to do all of the students' homework myself before answering questions about it.

Spring 2011-Fall 2011
During these semesters, I also learned the importance of speaking slowly and precisely. If I was not explaining a concept clearly enough, saying the same thing again or trying to rush through an explanation would not help. One of the ways that I found I could be most effective when working with a student one-on-one, especially when I started talking too quickly, was to stop, let everyone take a breath, find a concept that the student was comfortable with, and start again from there.

Fall 2012-Spring 2013
Being Head CA has taught me a long list of things, but one very concrete lesson is the importance of smiling and leading by example. During long nights of office hours when fifty students are waiting to get help on an assignment due in three hours, beginning each interaction by smiling and asking how I can help and maintaining that visible interest in that student's code and their situation has helped me to be a more effective teacher and role model in high stress situations. Unsurprisingly this has also been true in my interactions with other CAs, and I try to project a positive attitude. I hope that I helped to make the new CAs just as excited to be a part of the team as I was.

I am so honored to be receiving this award and so grateful to be a part of the 112 family with the most dedicated, fun, and brilliant people I know!

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