“Community is so important for teaching.”

When Viviana Pezzullo came to the United States and began teaching at Florida Atlantic University, she found that the experience was significantly different from her previous work. After growing up and studying in Italy, before learning and teaching in France and then Poland, she discovered that college teaching in Europe didn’t resemble that in the U.S. in many ways.

“It was shocking for me,” she told Bonni Stachowiak on the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast. “When I moved, I started teaching the week after I arrived. I wasn’t ready.”

Today, Pezzullo is a graduate teaching assistant and Ph.D. candidate at FAU. While she was initially concerned about working directly with undergraduate students immediately, her institution helped prepare her for the challenge. For example, she took a mandatory course in second language acquisition that focused on how to help students succeed. “It was theoretical, but I was also putting all this theory into practice because I was actually teaching the class,” she explained.

Pezzullo found participating in the ACUE program especially helpful in developing her approach and identity as an instructor. This, too, encouraged her to apply theory to practice. 

“I was reading and I was watching videos about different activities and methodologies and pedagogy, but at the same time, ACUE was asking me to implement these techniques.”

Speaking with fellow graduate students in her ACUE cohort allowed her to reflect on which methods worked best in different fields and disciplines. The instructors discussed how they could use various techniques and which ones worked best for them. 

“After one year, I actually realized that I had so much more freedom than I had in my own country to experiment,” Pezzullo said.

COVID-19 has, of course, presented challenges to Pezzullo and her fellow instructors, but using what she’s learned she’s been able to adapt. For example, she’s using Flipgrid so students can record and watch each other’s videos, which prompts discussions among students. She finds it especially helpful to show her face on camera to encourage participation, noting, “I think it’s important that students know who the professor is.”

She also suggests pairing students and creating a kind of “buddy system” to facilitate peer engagement.

“We need to find a new way to build a community because community is so important for teaching,” Pezzullo added.

Viviana Pezzullo is an ACUE-credentialed graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Languages, Linguistics and Comparative Literature and a PhD Candidate in Comparative Studies at Florida Atlantic University. She participated in our #ResilientFaculty series, sharing more of her story with ACUE.

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