Lauren Kachinko (Psychology and English Literature)
Before my experience in the Gods and Androids Academic Community, I had never once considered being a teacher. I didn’t think I was very good at explaining concepts to others or public speaking in general. But something drew me to apply to be an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant (UTA) as my own Academic Community drew to a close: Maybe it was the challenge. Maybe it was the fascination with being in a different position than student in a college-level course. Maybe it was my desire to be more involved on campus.
What I do know is that I had really enjoyed my experience in an Academic Community. From the very first class, I felt comfortable. Being in a small, intimate class with other students who were fascinated by the same things I was, I made more long-lasting friends in the seminar than I did in all my other classes combined.
I was accepted as a UTA in the very class I had been a part of, Gods and Androids. I was ecstatic, of course. I already knew my professor and I was honored to work with someone so intelligent and distinguished. When I sat in front of my students for the first time, I expected to be a bundle of helpless nerves, but I was oddly at ease, despite my anxiety over public speaking. These were not professors grading me, and I wasn’t presenting on a topic I found little interest in. These were my peers, who looked up to me as a practiced authority on what they were about to experience—and the only reason I was there was to help them.
It was a profound experience to realize over the course of the semester that I greatly enjoy being a teacher and a guide for my students. As the semester progressed, I slowly realized that I could speak in front of these students without thinking about it: I made on-the-fly critiques and analyzations of the texts we were reading without making a fool of myself. I organized presentations and did hours of research to make sure I was completely prepared for any questions my students may have. I was invested. I didn’t expect to feel as responsible as I did for the experiences of my students as they made their way through the first—and, in many ways, toughest—semester of their college career. But they were my students and I wanted nothing more than to see them succeed.
I found my own confidence rising beyond the seminar’s classroom. I presented long, in-depth research on papers to my peers and professors with ease and confidence. I spoke up more often in class discussions. I thought more deeply and critically about what I read for assignments and, more importantly, why I was reading them. I am a better student for having been a UTA.
My experiences as a UTA haven’t only affected my abilities as a student: I came to Pitt with the intention of being a psychology major and pursuing a career as a researcher. But as I ended the fall term and my first tenure as a UTA, I decided to add an English Literature major and to pursue the career of a high school English teacher.
It was a dramatic shift, both practically and emotionally. I stopped researching graduate psychology programs and instead began researching Pennsylvania teacher certifications. I quizzed my advisors for professional advice; I called home for more practical advice from my mom. I became self-reflective, wondering if I could hold myself to the same standards I had witnessed my own driven teachers set for themselves. But while I’m changing my mental idea of my career, I find myself becoming excited for what my future holds.
And now, ever since the first time I had to start thinking about my future, it finally feels more secure than it ever has before. Coming into college, I struggled to find something that fascinated me and would also support me financially. I found that career through a community of just the right people and the perfect opportunities. Because of my experience as a UTA, I managed to stumble into the rest of my life.