Pre-ed group brings together esteemed faculty to share personal stories of teaching careers

Nov. 21, 2014, 1:02 a.m.

Four esteemed teachers came together Wednesday night for “Your Favorite Professors on Teaching,” a panel event held by the Stanford Pre-Education Society (SPREES) where professors shared their views on careers in teaching.

Professors Harry Elam, Mehran Sahami, and Jennifer Schwartz take part in a panel on teaching hosted by SPREES. (KRISTEN STIPANOV/The Stanford Daily)
Professors Harry Elam, Mehran Sahami and Jennifer Schwartz take part in a panel on teaching hosted by SPREES. (KRISTEN STIPANOV/The Stanford Daily)

Panelists included history professor James Campbell, chemistry senior lecturer Jennifer Schwartz-Poehlmann, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and drama professor Harry Elam and computer science professor Mehran Sahami.

Julia Quintero ’15, who founded SPREES two years ago, said that the event was motivated by the desire to reach out to people who have never considered careers in education.

“We designed this event to attract non pre-ed students, actually,” Quintero said. “People who are not thinking about education at all and just wanted to come hear about this awesome professor that they love and happen to hear about teaching.”

Some panelists found that this target audience was key for the messages they shared about their personal journeys into a lifetime of teaching.

“I think it’s something that’s an afterthought for many,” Schwartz-Poehlmann said. “And so there’s a lot of great courses and resources that if you don’t realize until the end you’re going to teach, you’ll miss out on.”

Each of the panelists shared their story of how they arrived in their teaching careers. For example, although Sahami was involved in teaching during his student years at Stanford, he also did research at Google for many years before ultimately deciding to teach full-time.

The group also discussed their favorite moments while teaching. For instance, Elam discussed the influence that a class of students had on a book that he was writing.

The panelists also observed that learning continues as a teacher. Sahami described an ill-fated attempt to implement computer-based CS106A midterms and Campbell expressed concern about some assignments which may have had been overwhelming for students.

One of the messages shared by the panelists was that teachers continually change and evolve as they work. According to Schwartz-Poehlmann, she finds interest in teaching because it can evolve—she reads through the student evaluations at the end of each course and then thinks about how to better improve the course in future years to come.

The panel expressed the belief that teaching is a way of expanding one’s impact. Campbell said it is important to become involved in the educational arena in order to address disparities in the education system.

Others, like Sahami, called for more events such as the panel.

“I think it’d be nice for students at Stanford to be more aware of opportunities get involved in education,” Sahami said.

Quintero discussed several programs being offered by SPREES, including an internship program that would let participants shadow local teachers, a mentorship program and an event week letting people shadow Graduate School of Education programs.

SPREES is also hoping to create a capstone conference for Stanford for the end of the year, called ignitED, bringing together undergraduates and leaders in education.

Contact Skylar Cohen at skylarc ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.

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