Finding Teaching Experience When You’re Not a TA

Published: Tues., February 5, 2019

If you hope to work in academia, it can be important to have some teaching experience. However, some graduate students may study in departments where there are not as many teaching assistantships or opportunities to serve as a primary instructor of a class. Here are some ways to get some teaching experience if you do not have a teaching assistantship.

Guest Lectures

Even if you have research responsibilities and cannot teach full time, you may be able to guest lecture for one of your professors. Perhaps they will be out of town and you can fill in for them that day, or maybe you can arrange with them to let you teach one class session about your research or specialization. Talk with your faculty members about this opportunity and you may even want to propose possible topics you could teach or classes you might be able to help with. Often faculty may be willing to help you find avenues for this experience even if they don't have an opportunity for you to teach in their class.

Presenting at Local Museums

Did you know that Morrill Hall has Sunday with a Scientist events where experts present scientific concepts to children and visitors to the museum? Other local museums may have similar programs where you can teach one-day workshops on your specialty. Many history museums, art museums, and other local museums are likely to have similar opportunities where you can volunteer to teach and would probably welcome your expertise. If they don't advertise these opportunities, you can always contact the museum to see if they would be interested in organizing this kind of event.

Local Community Colleges

Sometimes local community colleges may be looking for instructors for introductory level classes in fields like English, Biology, or Math. You could serve as an adjunct or part-time instructor for these classes. Often they only require a Master's degree, and sometimes some practical experience in the field, to be able to teach there. If you decide to pursue this route, make sure you have the time available since this would require a fairly significant time commitment throughout the semester and might involve travel to the campus location a few times a week.

Tutoring or Mentoring Work

Do you tutor students or mentor students in the lab? Did you know that you are using teaching skills when you do this? Think about these as ways to build your skills teaching skills in a small scale way. Maybe you are teaching them how to use a particular machine, or tutoring a student for a semester on a specific topic. You can always build on these teaching experiences. For example, as a result of your mentoring you may find that you want o help develop better ways to teach undergraduate researchers to use a particular piece of equipment. Use that opportunity to create some resources and materials--this can show your passion for teaching.

Teaching for Community Programs

The Duke Talent Identification Program (TIP) offers summer courses and weekend classes throughout the year for gifted middle and high school students. Often these classes are taught at the college-level and featuring topics that would commonly be taught in colleges. Look into these programs and see if there’s a way you can teach for a month long summer class or a series of weekend classes to build your teaching expertise. Many of these programs may require travel depending on the nearest location of a program you wish to teach in.

You may also look to see if there are opportunities to teach in your specialty to the community. For example, Agronomy and Horticulture students may find opportunities to present to farmers or groups interested in environmental issues. Some departmental organizations have special events where they bring in students or community members. These can be great opportunities to share your knowledge with the community and utilize your teaching skills.

Opportunities In Other Departments

Occasionally, there may be opportunities to lead workshops or teach outside of your primary department. Think about what expertise you have what you think you might be able to share. Some organizations and departments may be looking for someone to teach workshops for them. In some rare cases, there may even be opportunities for you to TA in department outside your primary one.

If you want to teach, there are many ways to build that experience even if you do not have a TA position. If you would like to build your teaching skills, please look into our CIRTL program and teaching workshops to learn more about effective teaching strategies. We can also offer microteaching sessions so that graduate students can practice giving a lesson and get feedback on their teaching even if they do not have a regular classroom appointment. Contact our office if you are interested in learning more about any of these opportunities.

Regardless of what you choose to do, make sure to document the experience and take time to reflect on what you’ve done, what you’ve learned, and what you want to learn. Even if you don’t have any opportunities to teach you can still engage in training around teaching and grow as a reflective teacher.