Teaching Tips from 2023 Carski Awardee, Amy Siegesmund

July 25, 2023

Do you know what it takes to succeed in teaching? Improve your teaching with tips from Amy Siegesmund, Ph.D., 2023 Carski Awardee and a professor of biology at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash. Siegesmund shares how her journey, which had its fair share of failures, along with successes, helped shape her teaching. While many of the ideas she implemented in her classroom came from attending the ASM Conference for Undergraduate Educators (ASMCUE), Siegesmund had to adapt them to fit her students’ needs, her access to resources and her teaching style.  

Tip #1: Focus on Teaching the Students, Not on Content

Oftentimes faculty feel pressured to cover a certain amount of content in a classroom for various reasons. However, data show that active and inclusive learning strategies such as research boxes or this case study of cell staining, close opportunity gaps and positively impact science identity without compromising the ability to succeed in future classes. 

A picture of a traditional classroom.
Source: Google Images Creative Commons licenses
Another outcome of focusing on content-driven lectures is that the human component of education for both students and teachers are eliminated. For example, Siegesmund assumed that her role as an educator was to impart information, and it was a student’s job to take in the information. “Early in my career, I focused on teacher and content as drivers for my classroom. Then after attending ASMCUE, my focus switched to students. In the past couple of years, I have focused more on the human element and the relationships that I build in the classroom as a foundation for how I design my class and what we do in the classroom,” Siegesmund said. 

From the 2023 Carksi Award webinar, “The Joy in the Journey: Building Relationships and Sharing Experiences,” she uses approaches that come from 2 models to design her classroom: Deep Teaching Model and Head, Heart & Hands Model. These models stress 2 important components—they help educators think about goals for themselves and their students and put an emphasis on the human component of education. Some examples of how Siegesmund builds relationships with her students in the classroom are:  
  • Before the class starts, she has students submit a “This I Believe” essay, where they share a belief and the moments that shaped it. This helps Siegesmund learn who her students are and where they come from, and what they will bring to the classroom. 
  • On the first day of class, Siegesmund has students complete an “Expectations Conversations” exercise on whiteboards or big sticky notes. She has them write down their responses to questions like, “What is the best class you’ve ever had? What did the teacher do?” and “What did the students do?” This helps to set up the expectations of the students by the teacher and vice versa.   
  • Throughout the semester, Siegesmund collects “mid-semester feedback,” in which she asks students to share what’s working about the class, what’s not working and if there are any suggestions they have to make the class better. This helps Siegesmund make changes in real time.  
By centering the classroom around relationship building, it makes students feel seen and valued and cultivates their trust in teachers’ pedagogical choices.  

Tip #2: Focus on Adapting Strategies to a Post-Pandemic World 

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many parts of our lives, including how we teach and work, and how students learn. When students returned to in-person learning, Siegesmund had thoughts like, “They don’t want to be on campus/in the classroom,” “they don’t want to participate/talk/work in groups” or “they can’t focus.” She realized that instead of focusing on how to get students back to where they were before the pandemic, she had to learn how to improve the current situation. She quickly adapted by changing assignments and approaches.  

In the 2023 Carksi Award webinar, “The Joy in the Journey: Building Relationships and Sharing Experiences,” Siegesmund shares an example. She asked her students to complete a “Figure Analysis Assignment,” where they answer questions based on a scientific figure. When she received the responses, the core concepts were missing or the writing was poor. To address this, Siegesmund added more detailed questions with examples and reorganized the prompt to make the ideas more clear—the responses were much better.  

Tip #3: Build Your Community 

It’s important to find and participate in a teaching community because it gives educators a sense of belonging. This can lead to opportunities to engage and give back to your community, retention at your current job and a greater feeling of fulfilment. Siegesmund encourages you to think about what you need from your community to do your job well and to feel supported and valued. Find the people that can help you fulfil your needs and cultivate those relationships at your university or with others outside of your institution through ASMCUE or ASM’s education webinars.  

Tip #4: Prioritize Self-Care  

“I wish one of the things someone told me earlier in my career is to prioritize self-care,” said Siegesmund. After attending a conference where she heard a speaker talk about self-care, she realized that overworking was harmful to her wellbeing and, as a result, she started prioritizing self-care. She recommends teachers do at least 1 thing a day that meets your physical, intellectual, social, spiritual or emotional needs. This will help to prevent faculty burnouts. Siegesmund also encourages faculty to share these experiences of self-care with their colleagues to model how important it is and to normalize the practice of self-care. Doing so rejects the idea of an exhaustion culture in academia, where the more exhausted one is, the better faculty member they are perceived to be.  

By focusing on the human element of education, meeting students where they are, finding community and prioritizing self-care, educators achieve greater success in teaching.  
The ASM Conference for Undergraduate Educators’ 30th year aims to bring together educators from across the world for an immersive 3-day experience in Phoenix. ASMCUE is a 1-stop shop for the latest in evidence-based undergraduate biology education. So, whether you are an educator at a 2-year college, an undergrad educator or a student/post-doc with an interest in becoming an educator in the biological sciences, there’s content for you at ASMCUE. Plus, maximize your experience by attending 1 of 3 expert-led pre-conference workshops at no additional cost.  

Author: Shilpa Gadwal

Shilpa Gadwal
Shilpa Gadwal is the Career Resources Specialist at ASM.