Context: This is originally a Facebook public post that I quickly wrote on 8 October 2020. I moved it here as I am no longer an active user on that social media platform.
I accidentally found an online forum thread about Hong Kong Baptist University’s geography programme. It was posted almost three years ago, and unexpectedly I found my name on it. Luckily, they were positive comments about me as a tutor.
I recall some memories. Three years ago, the fall semester of 2017, I was the tutor of two courses, Urban Geography and Urban Planning. It was a busy semester. In addition to tutoring these two courses, I was also the teaching assistant of the foundational geography course. I also had to serve on several university executive committees and the University Senate, as well as to regularly write for newspapers. Had to do my own coursework in the MPhil programme, and my thesis work, of course.
The original design of the two urban courses was simple, only requiring the tutor to grade students’ assignments and give brief feedback in the classroom. One class had 70 students, another had 30, and each group of two to three students needed to submit 3 papers. This means that I already had to grade nearly 50 papers per month. Well, but I was the one who took the initiative to tell the professor that I wanted to do more in the tutorial sessions of these two courses, more than only dealing with the paper assignment. I had taken these two courses myself as an undergraduate in the past, so I knew what kind of challenges students might encounter when studying and preparing for their assignments, and what guidance and assistance they might need. I do recall that the professor was hesitant, worrying that it would take up too much time from my thesis writing, but he also granted me the liberty to do this. I decided to do this.
I was indeed very committed to the teaching responsibility. Undoubtedly, it was not an easy task to design the tutorial part of two courses from scratch. My goals were not only to support the students to finish their assignments, but also to get them interested in geography. I tutored on Wednesdays and Fridays from 8:30am to noon, and also hosted consultation hours. Preparing for reading materials and classroom materials was time-consuming. I introduced to the students some dictionaries and encyclopaedias of geography (some students told me afterwards that they appreciate this a lot as these reference materials were useful in other courses and even the undergraduate honours project as well). I selected some planning cases and documents which can help facilitate the classroom discussion.
For me, the classroom was a space for educational experimentation. I tried to use power-point, the most mainstream way of teaching these days. I also tried the most traditional way, chalk and talk. Also tried interactive ways of discussion and activities. In the tutorial sessions, we discussed global cities and homelessness, also planning procedures, history, politics, and democracy. We read Harvey, Lefebvre, and Flyvbjerg, as well as English publications by local scholars. Students include Hong Kong students, Chinese students, and quite a few foreign exchange students. Most of them majored in geography, some from other programmes. I even took the time to memorise all their names so I could call them by their first names during the interactions. As a tutor, I just hoped that this would encourage them to participate and feel being respected on the (sometimes) apathetic campus where, as this happens worldwide, students are treated as customers of the education industry.
Preparing and teaching the classes was hard. However, it was super satisfactory that the submitted papers demonstrated students’ thoughts and reflections on what we had discussed in the classroom. What was even wonderful was to see students are interested in geography.
I was an unqualified tutor. I was not really knowledgeable, and I could not provide great insights. But I just wanted the students to spend an hour a week in the classroom to discuss geography. In fact, I really enjoyed interacting with them. That is why I included them in the acknowledgements of my MPhil thesis. I really meant it. I did benefit a lot from them. Perhaps I can’t say I actually ‘taught’ anything. I am already grateful if my students could get a bit of inspiration, some reflections, or gain a bit of good from my class.
Looking back on this teaching experience, I realise that I did see about 200 faces in the classroom during my two-year time as a research postgraduate. Even though I didn’t take that opportunity to prepare my teaching portfolio, the classroom experience was still very important to me. It meant a lot to me. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I want to become an academic. I enjoy and I want to interact with people, whether they are students, fellow colleagues, research subjects or collaborators. I just want to work with people.