This time last year, I made the last minute decision to apply to be an instructor for the FIGS program on campus. At the time, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into, and now, almost an entire year later, I can honestly say that getting involved with FIGS has been one of the most challenging and most rewarding opportunities I have undertaken as a student at Rutgers. If you are unfamiliar with the program, FIGS stands for First-Year Interest Group Seminars. These seminars are 1 credit classes designed for first-year students– they all cover different topical areas that connect to different majors, as well as more general information about navigating the enormous university that is Rutgers. The unique thing about these seminars is that they are taught by upperclassmen–juniors and seniors that take on the role of “Peer Instructor,” and receive 3 credits for attended several training sessions over the summer break, creating 10 weeks of lesson plans, and actually implementing those lesson plans in the classroom. This semester, I taught “Exploring English Literature” to a class of 23 first years.
Even after an entire summer of careful planning and prepping, walking into my classroom during the first week of September was one of the most intimidating things I have ever done. I felt awkward and rushed, and having twenty-three pairs of eyes examining my every move didn’t help. Ten weeks later, I am comfortable leading discussions, even when things begin stray from my lesson plan. I see students making connections between different poems and texts we have read throughout the semester. I get to read their reflections and first responses to short stories I selected as a part of their reading lists. And tomorrow, during our last class, I will be able to watch my students present their final projects on authors they chose and researched. I am excited to see what my students create and what they have learned from my class throughout the semester. I’ve always been interested in teaching, especially at the level of higher education, and writing and instructing my own FIGS seminar only confirmed this.
When I really stop to think about this past semester and the FIGS process as a whole, I truthfully think that I learned more than my students. Some of the most important lessons I have learned directly apply to my future career interests, and will definitely give me something to talk about in future job interviews. As FIGS was really my first experience in a leadership role at Rutgers, I have become so much more confident speaking in front of people and leading group and individual discussions. My time management skills have improved, as well as my general organizational and administrative skills. I have learned about my students and the variety of backgrounds and different high school experiences and educations that they have. I have also learned more about myself, both as an individual, and as a teacher.
While there were many moments this semester that stand out, the most inspiring was something that happened just last week. After nine weeks of class, one of my students approached me as asked, “What can I do to become a FIGS instructor?” As cliche as it sounds, it is a really cool thing to think about the ways in which I possibly inspired her to take on the same leadership role as I am currently in.
It’s been a long semester and FIGS as a whole has been a lot of hard work filled with more than my fair share of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. If you are a sophomore or junior this semester, and you have any interest in teaching, or even just really love your major and want to share it with the next generation of Rutgers students, I cannot recommend the FIGS Peer Instructor experience enough.
The application comes out in the next week or so, and will be available here: https://figs.rutgers.edu/peer-instructors/teach-a-figs.