Mining Our Own Acres: the Diamond Peer Teacher Program
— By Kime Lawson, assistant editor
As an adjunct at Temple over the past five years I’ve found myself complaining with other teachers about the quality of the average Temple student, perhaps to the point of cliché. Surely a large percentage of students don’t pay too much attention to the syllabus or to the assigned reading, but about every other academic year a remarkably superior Temple student has challenged my cynicism about the current state of education. Dr. Russell Conwell founded Temple University to mine local “diamonds,” and the Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies (SVPUS) offers a number of “Diamond Programs” faculty can use to polish exceptional students’ professional and academic facets. One such vehicle, the Diamond Peer Teacher Program, allows qualifying students to shadow a faculty mentor for a semester to experience the behind-the-scenes world of teaching a lower-level college course. I was fortunate enough to be selected as a mentor in the Diamond Peer Teacher Program when I was an instructor in Intellectual Heritage back in Spring of 2008, and I also recently had the great pleasure of speaking with the Diamond Program’s director, Dr. Emily Moerer.
Dr. Moerer explained that the Diamond Peer Teacher Program is designed to facilitate “high impact activities that promote student engagement” using the Supplemental Instruction model. The SI model targets challenging lower-level courses that have low retention or high failure rates by training an exceptional student to act as peer instructional support. In the Diamond Peer Teacher Program a faculty mentor and SVPUS institutional support work together to guide a student through the process of teaching a college course in which they have previously excelled, with the expectation that the student will use those skills to offer supplemental instruction to the class. The peer teacher attends class as a “model student” whose goal is to encourage greater overall student participation and engagement with the course material by directing some class activities and being available to students for consultation outside of the classroom.
A Diamond Peer Teacher is not a teaching assistant or a tutor and has distinctive advantages over both positions. Peer teachers have already demonstrated success in their specific course section, they have previously experienced their mentor’s classroom dynamic, and they are socially closer to
the students in the classroom as peers. They can offer practical advice from proven achievement and an egalitarian vantage point.
My own experiences mentoring a Diamond Peer Teacher convinced me that this program for developing great teachers is among the University’s finest. My Diamond Peer Teacher, Barry Greenstein, was a polymath who really had a knack for connecting interdisciplinary perspectives and pop cultural themes to the classics we were reading in Intellectual Heritage I. His insights streamlined my syllabus, and he talked me into using widelyknown television tropes as analogies to many of the themes that pull together classical texts. Seeing him open up and grow more confident during the semester as he directed student discussion and review sessions was valuable to me, and it only cost me an extra hour or so a week. Collaborating with Barry definitely taught me to be a better teacher.
The Diamond Peer Teacher Program offers thirty-eight positions per semester and thirteen of those slots are dedicated to GenEd courses. Any faculty member, including NTTs and adjuncts (but not “gradjuncts”) may participate as a Diamond Peer Teacher mentor. Diamond Peer Teacher applicants must have earned an A- in the course and their major must be closely related to it, and they must have maintained a cumulative GPA of 3.25 over 60 credit hours. The deadline for Fall 2011 has passed already, but the Spring 2012 deadline will come quickly next semester on September 15th. The field is highly competitive; Dr. Moerer said SVPUS gets around 150 applications per semester. Instructors receive a $500 bonus for participating, which may seem small, but students receive a $2250 stipend for the semester. This stipend gives them the possibility to take a break from the part-time job they likely need, and they can focus a little more on their long-term professional development. If you teach a class appropriate for the Supplemental Instruction model, I must recommend helping your best students apply for the Diamond Peer Teacher Program.
For more information about the Diamond Peer Teacher Program and application materials, visit: http://www.temple.edu/vpus/opportunities/peerteacher.htm