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Laboratory instructor internships help cultivate a new generation of deaf science teachers

June 1, 2011
Arrow Buff

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The Biology Department began hiring senior biology majors as laboratory instructors during the 2010 spring semester to teach non-majors taking the course BIO105: “Human Biology.” To date, the initiative has enabled five students, including a president’s fellow, to gain valuable hands-on teaching experience.

The student laboratory instructors are chosen from a number of criteria, including their career goals, interest in teaching, and high academic standing–a GPA of 3.0 or higher is required. Students participating in a laboratory instructor internship acquire knowledge and practical skills, which will enhance their chances of obtaining full time employment after graduation. Biology Department faculty have another goal for the program: They hope the internship will encourage high achieving students to consider becoming teachers, thus helping to address a perceived shortage of potential deaf science teachers.

“This is a great idea to help the lab instructors better prepare for their classes both professionally and personally,” said Taiyabah Naeem, a biology and chemistry major who graduated with University Honors in 2010.

Dr. Ava Morrow, professor and internship coordinator in the Biology Department, has served as the mentor for the laboratory instructors throughout the course of this pilot program. Her role is to provide support and guidance to help the novice instructors maximize their learning experience by improving their performance and developing the capacity to contribute to the effectiveness of the course–and their future career.

“Mentoring is a relationship that gives a more experienced person the opportunity to share his or her professional and personal skills with a new or less experienced individual,” said Morrow. She seeks to establish a bond with her mentees by being a respected figure for them to share their ideas, plans, and problems–in confidence. In turn, she provides them with information, encouragement, constructive feedback, and compliments on their achievements.

Each semester begins with a meeting in which Morrow discusses pertinent issues with the instructors, such as mentor and mentee responsibilities, confidentiality requirements, and tips on how to handle difficult situations. She also leads biweekly meetings to cover practical matters like the proper way to use and maintain laboratory equipment, laboratory activities to conduct with the students during the semester, and how to assess student performance. Mentees are encouraged to consult with Morrow if they have concerns, and if necessary, she steps in to resolve conflicts or other issues. If the problems are not resolved to the satisfaction of the mentees, they are encouraged to seek the advice of Biology Department Chair Kathleen Arnos.

Oversight of the program is ongoing through the semester to ensure its success. Four weeks into the semester and at its conclusion, the mentees fill out an evaluation form, which Dr. Arnos summarizes and uses to provide feedback to Morrow. Members of the biology faculty are asked to do a peer evaluation of the laboratory instructors while they are providing instruction to the students. In addition, the students are asked to fill out an evaluation of the instructor.

The feedback regarding the mentoring program has been very positive, said Arnos. She shared summaries of the evaluations from the student instructors regarding the mentor/mentee relationship. “Dr. Morrow has given me guidance and constructive feedback that enabled me to feel more confident and have the ability to improve,” said Ian DeAndrea-Lazarus. “I enjoyed working with Dr. Morrow,” said Christina Pullen. “She helped me with what we needed to teach the students; she listened to my feedback and corrected me when necessary. It has helped me see mistakes and learn from them.”

“We feel that the program has provided great benefits for the laboratory instructors (mentees), the students, the mentor, and the Biology Department/University,” said Morrow. She listed the benefits to the various constituents involved in the arrangement:

Benefits for the laboratory instructor (mentee)
• Improved self-confidence and effectiveness in teaching
• Encourages a proactive role in learning and development
• Provides advice and information on the curriculum and course presentation
• Provides personal support for concerns, ideas, and issues that arise
• Offers opportunities for professional development
• Provides awareness of the daily operations of the department

Benefits for the students
• Experienced peer-to-peer teaching/learning interactions
• Observe their peers modeling professional behavior

Benefits for the mentor
• Provides personal satisfaction in assisting in the career development of a colleague
• Encourages self-reflections on teaching styles and colleague interactions
• Develops professional relationships
• Enhances peer recognition

Benefits for the department/university
• Enables faster induction of new staff
• Enhances team performance
• Enhances visibility and prominence within the profession
• Improves communication and enhances of department quality
• Promotes a climate of professional development

Students working as laboratory instructors can also register for the two-credit course Biology 202: “Internship in Biology,” which Morrow leads. Morrow said the Biology Department plans to continue recruiting seniors to teach in the Biology 105 laboratory. She added, “We hope that after graduating the mentees will attend graduate school, earn master degrees and Ph.Ds, and return to Gallaudet, so that when the current faculty members retire, we can pass the torch to a new generation of science teachers.”

1 June 2011

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