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GlobalInformatician

TAing for prof with poor 'rate my prof' score

9 posts in this topic

According to rate my professor, my course instructor while world-renowned and a genious may also be arrogant. Students feel intimidated to ask him questions and his course is relatively difficult. Despite this, I opted to TA for his course because I just had a baby and I wouldn't have to teach tutorials, only mark and hold office hours (although I have experience teaching an undergraduate course, it's practical to manage my workload with a newborn this year). I also agreed to the course because it's a research methods course, making marking more objective than subjective. I've read some of his work and do look forward to working with such an accomplished scholar, regardless of his attitudinal reputation. Anyone else experienced a prof with an attitude toward students? How did this affect how students related and what they expected of TAs.

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Generally, I would strongly suggest ignoring RMP reviews for any kind of decision making on your part. Students will form their own opinions, and those are only sometimes related to actual facts. On a practical level, it depends on how much work you want to put in. If students dislike the prof, they may come to you more or they may give up. If you are encouraging and open, you might end up spending a lot of time fixing what the prof broke. They may love you, and you'll get excellent reviews. Or they may blame you for everything that's wrong and whatever you do won't be good enough. There are also questions of how supportive the prof will be with solutions, resolving disagreements, and such. So short answer is, if you want to keep a low profile, you can keep your role to a minimum and follow his lead in how you treat the students, or you could present yourself as the recourse for any confusion he introduces. Part of it you have to play by ear depending on the class you get and its nature, as well as your relationship with the prof. (You also didn't mention how large the class is, what works for a class of 15 may not work for 150, and vice versa.)

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1 hour ago, GlobalInformatician said:

According to rate my professor, my course instructor while world-renowned and a genious may also be arrogant. Students feel intimidated to ask him questions and his course is relatively difficult. Despite this, I opted to TA for his course because I just had a baby and I wouldn't have to teach tutorials, only mark and hold office hours (although I have experience teaching an undergraduate course, it's practical to manage my workload with a newborn this year). I also agreed to the course because it's a research methods course, making marking more objective than subjective. I've read some of his work and do look forward to working with such an accomplished scholar, regardless of his attitudinal reputation. Anyone else experienced a prof with an attitude toward students? How did this affect how students related and what they expected of TAs.

I wouldn't put too much stock in RMP. One of my favorite undergrad teachers had an awful score, obviously from students who did not want to work because he made his students think. He was very shy and students thought he was aloof, but if you took the time to go by his office and talk to him, he was great.  

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Thanks for the feedback. 

I'm not sure of class size but my third year methods course in undergrad (same school) had about 70 students.

I agree,  the reviews ought not deter me from TAing the course that's right for me. 

I anticipate students seeking me out more for help with content but I didn't think about the point you made re: it could be an opportunity to be supportive and open, and potentially re-engage students that may have given up. 

At the same time, I agree, I would not want to undermine the prof whatsoever. I would want to reinforce his standards re: marking and wouldn't cave under pressure to students. I would want to have his back, as I'd hope he'd have mine if there were conflicts. 

So, of the options laid out I would try to seek a balance I guess. 

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I'd like to chip in with some extra advice. 

All sorts of teaching can be educational for TAs. In the worst case scenario, where the professor is actually a messy, unfair, dull cartoon, you can see situations that you would handle differently: the what-not-to-do situations. If this professor is in fact a bad professor (in what ever sense this could be), then you can think of ways in which you would do things differently. Here are a bunch of possible questions you can observe: 

  • Are they disorganized? (How would you organize your classes?)
  • Are they unfair? How? (How would you handle the issues more fairly?)
  • Are they boring/disengaging? (How would you engage students?)
  • Do they have a bad presence in the class? (low voice, monotone, hiding behind desk, etc) 

You can imagine others. 

Also, the bright side of being a bad professor's TA is that you can meet with them periodically, ask questions about the reasons for ways they handle things, and even make suggestions. (Of course, this depends a lot on other factors. I TAed for my advisor so I was a little confident in making suggestions). 

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Posted (edited)

During my MA, I TA'd for a professor who was also director of the Folklife Center at my school. I attended class with him and worked with students to get their papers into shape prior to final submission and grading. Several students told me over the course of those 4 semesters that I was the reason they passed the course. It was a good introduction into getting to know students and help them. I think it will make me a better teacher in the long run. This is a good decision you have made Global. Learning to be a good teacher takes many different paths. Your decision is just one more.

Edited by cowgirlsdontcry

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2 hours ago, AP said:

If this professor is in fact a bad professor (in what ever sense this could be), then you can think of ways in which you would do things differently. Here are a bunch of possible questions you can observe: 

  • Are they disorganized? (How would you organize your classes?)
  • Are they unfair? How? (How would you handle the issues more fairly?)
  • Are they boring/disengaging? (How would you engage students?)
  • Do they have a bad presence in the class? (low voice, monotone, hiding behind desk, etc) 

You can imagine others. 

^ That's a useful thing to do regardless of whether the professor is bad or not. Not everything they do (that work or that don't work) will work for you, so it's always a useful question to ask yourself: how would you teach this class? What would you keep/replace/adapt? This is the case both when you TA and when you take a class as a graduate student, if you eventually want to teach a version of that class yourself. 

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Probably a good idea to disregard what's written on RMP. I remember learning about the website near the end of my undergrad and so I looked up some of my past professors, out of curiosity. Some of my favourite classes had terrible reviews and some of the classes I hated had rave reviews! I am pretty sure the only students who write these reviews are the ones who had extremely good or extremely bad experiences, and that's not very helpful at all. And as I wrote in these forums before, reading my own TA evals showed me that students often don't really know whats going on behind the scenes and then will give ratings based on assumptions (e.g. one student hated the grading style but still rated my grading highly because they wrote that they thought I was "just following the professor's orders" when in fact it was completely my "fault" that the grading style was the way it was). 

I'd echo what people have said above, especially fuzzy's advice about deciding how you want to handle the TAing (low profile vs. being a lifeline for students). I probably would err on the lifeline side (without undermining the prof) because I find it very rewarding to help students learn the material. I also think that since this is a 3rd year class, you will hopefully get the students motivated to learn the material since it doesn't sound like it would be a "breadth" requirement type class (but I could be wrong!). 

Finally, a piece of advice to help you keep your sanity should you decide to take the "help the students extra / be a lifeline" path. Before you begin, you should set some limits for yourself: how much time will you put into providing extra help? If you run out of time, how will you prioritize your student appointments? What is the "line" for you in terms of helping....e.g. at what point would things be too stressful that you will revert back to the "keep your head down" approach. This is especially important since it sounds like one of the reasons you wanted to TA this class was to ensure it doesn't take up too much of your time (e.g. no recitations/tutorials). Revisit these limits at the midterm and adjust as necessary.

Personally, although I love TAing and helping students, I have other priorities too, so my limit was 9 hours per week (a full assignment at my school, same as the number of hours students expected to commit to a class) and if I had too many requests for meetings, I tried to split my time to be helping the students getting Cs and Ds with 80% of my time and spend 20% on the students who were doing well in the class. But find the ratio that works for you!

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On 8/9/2017 at 9:50 PM, TakeruK said:

Finally, a piece of advice to help you keep your sanity should you decide to take the "help the students extra / be a lifeline" path. Before you begin, you should set some limits for yourself: how much time will you put into providing extra help? If you run out of time, how will you prioritize your student appointments? What is the "line" for you in terms of helping....e.g. at what point would things be too stressful that you will revert back to the "keep your head down" approach. This is especially important since it sounds like one of the reasons you wanted to TA this class was to ensure it doesn't take up too much of your time (e.g. no recitations/tutorials). Revisit these limits at the midterm and adjust as necessary.

[...]

I tried to split my time to be helping the students getting Cs and Ds with 80% of my time and spend 20% on the students who were doing well in the class. But find the ratio that works for you!

Incredibly good guidance @TakeruK .

@GlobalInformatician a tactic that may help you to establish and to preserve boundaries on your time if you go the "lifeline" path is to keep students apprised of your shifting schedule. "If you want to visit during my office hours on the 15th, you need to schedule an appointment by the Xth." Or "If you want feedback on your project, I need it by the Zth." My belated discovery of this tactic helped me to ratchet down my tendency to offer on demand 24/7 support.

You could also be straight forward about your focus as a parent. You could offer a caveat that you'll do your best to support your students and (not but) your child comes first.

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