harrisonfjord

What piece(s) of advice would you give to new TAs?

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Just curious to hear what everyone here has to say! I see some really experienced members on these boards and think we all could benefit. This was my first semester teaching and it definitely opened up my eyes.

 

My pieces of advice (maybe they are already obvious, but I learned a lot of these from this semester):

 

-I would say that no matter how much time you spend outlining and writing a rubric for a paper or project, be prepared for students to ignore it (and to inevitably be upset when they get their grades)

-Never assume that upper-level students know how to write properly

-Include a section on the syllabus about how to email professors/TAs/other administrators at school appropriately 

-And most importantly I think next semester I will make a syllabus/policy quiz mandatory so everyone knows exactly what is expected of them and so they are all aware of exactly what plagiarism is (I was a TA for an upper-level course but apparently it is still not a known fact what plagiarism entails even as a junior)

Edited by harrisonfjord

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Don't take it too seriously.

 

Yes it is important and yes you have responsiblity.  Do your job, do less when you can and more when you think you should.

 

But keep your mind on why you are in grad school, and that having been a TA, bad, great or excellent, won't ultimately help a great deal in the job market.

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But keep your mind on why you are in grad school, and that having been a TA, bad, great or excellent, won't ultimately help a great deal in the job market.

 

This is definitely field-specific and also depends on where you're seeking employment. A number of TT jobs I applied for this year asked for a teaching portfolio, evidence of teaching excellence or effectiveness, or copies of teaching evaluations along with my application, before or after a phone interview, and prior to a campus interview. While it may not help a great deal, it can definitely hurt an applicant, especially if the evals you get aren't very good and there are other applicants with better evals you're being compared to.

 

As for actual advice, I'll start with the following:

- Figure out what resources are available to you as a TA or instructor in your department, in your college, and through the university's teaching center. And then take advantage of them. My PhD university's teaching center flat-out told me that I was one of three grad students from my department (90 grad students) they had ever met with or assisted. Now part of this was due to my department's culture where consulting the teaching center was seen as an admission of failure but that's BS and you should ignore that if people are saying it.

- When in doubt, consult the internet. By which I mean, if you have to create a syllabus, google around to see syllabi others have created for that course or a similar course. If you're looking for appropriate wording for a policy, again you can consult the internet (though you may want to consult your peers and department first because some stuff is university-specific and/or university mandated). Looking for an assignment idea? Google it. Sample rubric? Google for one. There's really no reason to reinvent the wheel.

- Accept that it will take you a while to gain your footing in the classroom. Be willing to change midway through the term and to do different things for different sections because not all students are the same.

- Take advantage of any courses/workshops/tutorials that will help you become a better teacher. Again, the teaching center will probably offer workshops or brownbags. These are awesome as a grad student because most of the attendees will be TT faculty so you can see what they're struggling with or what they're doing that works and use it in your teaching. Doing that early on will make you more effective in the long run, leading to better evals.

- Devise and administer a midterm evaluation of your students that's for you. Take their feedback seriously and incorporate it into the course. It almost always leads to improved semester evals, even if you don't change very much.

- Have someone else (an experienced teacher) observe your teaching. It will be painful and awkward and difficult. But, it will help you improve. It will also give you more material for your future teaching portfolio.

- Take the time to identify excellent teachers on campus (whether or not they're in your field) and observe them. You may need to ask them first, of course. If you're having trouble finding someone, ask the teaching center. Watching other people who are awesome, especially those who do it in totally different ways (like observing a lecture for 400 students vs a seminar for 30 students), will help you understand the variety of what works and identify some techniques that will work for you.

- Oh, and take the time to learn your students' names whenever possible. They appreciate it.

 

Okay, that was a lot of advice and probably more than you can do all in one semester. But, I hope it helps someone!

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Thank you, NicholasCage, I totally understand what you mean. It is important to take it seriously, but not to the point of neglecting other obligations. I made that mistake this semester because I neglected some of my own finals to get through grading and writing exams for my class. 

 

 

This is definitely field-specific and also depends on where you're seeking employment. A number of TT jobs I applied for this year asked for a teaching portfolio, evidence of teaching excellence or effectiveness, or copies of teaching evaluations along with my application, before or after a phone interview, and prior to a campus interview. While it may not help a great deal, it can definitely hurt an applicant, especially if the evals you get aren't very good and there are other applicants with better evals you're being compared to.

 

As for actual advice, I'll start with the following:

- Figure out what resources are available to you as a TA or instructor in your department, in your college, and through the university's teaching center. And then take advantage of them. My PhD university's teaching center flat-out told me that I was one of three grad students from my department (90 grad students) they had ever met with or assisted. Now part of this was due to my department's culture where consulting the teaching center was seen as an admission of failure but that's BS and you should ignore that if people are saying it.

- When in doubt, consult the internet. By which I mean, if you have to create a syllabus, google around to see syllabi others have created for that course or a similar course. If you're looking for appropriate wording for a policy, again you can consult the internet (though you may want to consult your peers and department first because some stuff is university-specific and/or university mandated). Looking for an assignment idea? Google it. Sample rubric? Google for one. There's really no reason to reinvent the wheel.

- Accept that it will take you a while to gain your footing in the classroom. Be willing to change midway through the term and to do different things for different sections because not all students are the same.

- Take advantage of any courses/workshops/tutorials that will help you become a better teacher. Again, the teaching center will probably offer workshops or brownbags. These are awesome as a grad student because most of the attendees will be TT faculty so you can see what they're struggling with or what they're doing that works and use it in your teaching. Doing that early on will make you more effective in the long run, leading to better evals.

- Devise and administer a midterm evaluation of your students that's for you. Take their feedback seriously and incorporate it into the course. It almost always leads to improved semester evals, even if you don't change very much.

- Have someone else (an experienced teacher) observe your teaching. It will be painful and awkward and difficult. But, it will help you improve. It will also give you more material for your future teaching portfolio.

- Take the time to identify excellent teachers on campus (whether or not they're in your field) and observe them. You may need to ask them first, of course. If you're having trouble finding someone, ask the teaching center. Watching other people who are awesome, especially those who do it in totally different ways (like observing a lecture for 400 students vs a seminar for 30 students), will help you understand the variety of what works and identify some techniques that will work for you.

- Oh, and take the time to learn your students' names whenever possible. They appreciate it.

 

Okay, that was a lot of advice and probably more than you can do all in one semester. But, I hope it helps someone!

 

rising_star, thank you so much for all of this info! I know I definitely could use some of it in future semesters. Especially regarding adapting to the needs of the class, using resources and the midterm evals.

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You're going to have bad days. You're going to have bad days a lot at first, but even after you've been teaching for 5 or 10 years, you're going to have bad days then, too. Just accept them and move on.

 

Related to that, if your students don't like your class or your subject-matter (or even you), don't take it too personally. Remember that you're an "authority" figure in a required class, and that people don't really like authority figures or their "required" courses. (I know that nothing is really "required" in college, but students often perceive general ed classes as a chore.) More importantly, students lose a lot of respect for instructors who seem to take student disinterest really personally. Be open to student feedback (in the form of midterm evaluations) but don't chase after their approval. That just makes you look desperate.

 

Resist the temptation to grade too hard or too easy. Devise a rubric (or borrow one from someone) and stick to it. If it's a choice between being kind and being fair, be fair.

 

Don't lose sight of your own work or the reason you came to grad school. Don't let teaching eat your professional or personal life.

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Related to that, if your students don't like your class or your subject-matter (or even you), don't take it too personally. Remember that you're an "authority" figure in a required class, and that people don't really like authority figures or their "required" courses. (I know that nothing is really "required" in college, but students often perceive general ed classes as a chore.) More importantly, students lose a lot of respect for instructors who seem to take student disinterest really personally. Be open to student feedback (in the form of midterm evaluations) but don't chase after their approval. That just makes you look desperate.

 

Don't lose sight of your own work or the reason you came to grad school. Don't let teaching eat your professional or personal life.

 

Wow, this is absolutely great advice! Thanks for putting this into perspective. I think I struggled with this a lot this semester, but you have fantastic suggestions regarding how to deal with it. 

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I also have to disagree with NicholasCage's comment.  90-95 percent of academic institutions in the United States are teaching-focused institutions; therefore, most of us will end up there.  Your teaching skills are going to be an important part of the hiring process at those places.  Plus, even research-intensive institutions would rather have a professor who can connect well with students AND is a great researcher than a professor who is a terrible teacher (unless that second research has mad money).

My advice:

1. Don't spend an inordinate amount of hours preparing...well, anything for class.  Learn to limit your prep time.  Part of that is because the students are going to ignore a lot of it anyway, but most of it is because you need to learn balance early in your career.  For example, I have a tendency to do line edits on students' papers, so I try to limit myself to editing only the first page to a page and a half and then add a comment like "You have errors like this throughout your paper; please proofread and fix."

2. Related to #1, learn to wing it.  I create slides for my lectures but I no longer write extensive notes.  I actually find I lecture better when I don't have notes, because then I'm more free-form.  And I don't just mean talking extemporaneously - I mean switching gears when your students look bored or aren't getting it.  As you get more experience this will become easier.  

3. Create an organizational system for grading.  Buy folders or binders or trays or whatever you want to organize 1) graded papers 2) to-be-graded papers for different classes.  This way you won't have paper all over the apartment, which drove me absolutely nuts.  You also will be better able to keep up with assignments, lowering the risk of losing one.  If you have a choice, absolutely collect everything electronically through the course management system.  Forget all that paper.

4. Totally agree with not assuming that upper-level students know how to write properly.  If you are at an elite university, do not assume that your students are automatically good at whatever it is you're teaching them.  I was kind of shocked my first semester TAing at the quality of work I got from students at my elite university - I went to a not-elite place and assumed that the students at the elite place would be simply amazing, since the students at my not-elite place were great.  And they are amazing...in different ways...in the typical way that college students are amazing in their ingenuity and creativity (both for good and evil).  But they're not substantially smarter or better than students from other, less elite institutions. They're just richer and better prepared (on average).

A few years ago my younger sister asked me to help her with a paper that was very similar to a paper I was currently grading for a class very similar to the one she was taking at her regional public college, to which she commuted from home.  My family is blue-collar; she went to a regular public high school and was a slightly above-average student.  Her paper was better written than MOST of the students' papers in my class.

5. If you are TAing for a professor and it gets down to 2 weeks before the class starts and you haven't heard from them, contact them yourself.  Most times you will get an apologetic "Oh yeah, I'm teaching a class!"  If you get a brush-off equivalent to "Mmm, I'll think about it in two weeks," prepare for an interesting semester.

I think the most important to remember is similar to what hashslinger said.  Remember that we were the nerds in high school and college - we showed up shiny and excited to learn.  Particularly if you are teaching an intro class, your students will not be as excited as you, and some of them will never get excited.  They may be taking it because it's an easy GE requirement, or they need some extra credits, or they heard it was an easy A.  Perhaps 10% of your class will decide to major in the field; maybe another 10-20% will not but will be genuinely interested.  The rest will be some varying levels of "whatever." Visualize that 20-30% when you are preparing lectures, but realize that not even close to everyone is in that area and some people will be grubbing for grades.

Oh, also, don't be afraid to indulge in geekery, as long as you don't go down the rabbit hole too deeply.  One of the things that has reached my students is how geeked and enthusiastic I am about my interest area.  Even when they think I'm silly and uncool, they still appreciate my passion, and in some of them it has led to really productive curiosity.

 

ALSO.  I lurk on the "In the Classroom" threads on Chronicle of Higher Education's forum.  There are lots of experienced professors there and they have AWESOME advice (and really funny stories).

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All excellent advice so far! I only have a couple of specifics to add.

 

- I would echo what rising_star said re: accessing your university's teaching centre, where available. The workshops through this resource are incredibly helpful to aid not only your students' development, but your own efficiency.

 

- I would also echo what jullietmercredi said about organization. It is absolutely worth the time to come up with a system for organizing; it will be worth it even if you have ONE student/essay that goes AWOL, as you'll be able to quickly ascertain what's up (every semester students seem to top themselves in the creative ways that they disregard my submission instructions, while you should resist the urge to coddle, a good organization system will ensure that you can detect these hiccups quickly).

 

- On the organization front: I would also encourage you to spreadsheet your hours. I work at a Uni with a union, so there are stipulations about workload whereby one can grieve/remedy situations of over-work. I understand that this varies around universities, so I would encourage you to get acquainted with your departmental/university culture on the TA front and find out how TA assignments are comprised and what routes there are to address issues - in any case, track your hours. If a prof thinks that marking each mid-term test should take you 15 minutes, and you take a half hour for each, that does not mean that you suck at marking (though it is true that you'll take some time to find your groove), it might mean that there needs to be an adjustment in terms of the assignment or the hours that are expected/available to mark it. Think of it this way: if you just put your head down and do the excess work, some poor schmuck TA that does the class NEXT time will have to contend with the same issue. Again, find out the routes to address issues and gauge your departmental culture on this - it might just be a matter of informally discussing things with the prof, it might be a matter of submitting something to the uni HR so they can adjust the TA assignment. At the very least, spread-sheeting will help you get acquainted with how many hours each task in a semester requires, so you can predict how to plan your NEXT semester AND you can concretely see how you are becoming more efficient in each task.

 

- Have a "warm fuzzies folder". Every nice e-mail from prof or students, solicited or unsolicited, goes in the folder. This will make it easier to compose a teaching dossier later on. If someone says something nice about what a great TA you are, ask them to put that sentiment in an e-mail and send it to you - that might feel weird, but self-advocacy is a good skill to hone.

 

- I'm a strong advocate of the electronic rubric. That is, typing up comments in a word doc rubric and stapling these to the essays, rather than printing blank rubrics and writing in them. This has several benefits: (1) There's no question that my comments are legible; (2) I can send the whole doc to the prof, if they're interested, so that they can get a sense of trends in the comments and/or they have the comments on-hand if a student comes in to complain about the mark; ( 3) I find that students tend to skim comments if I put lots of them on BOTH the paper and the rubric, so I mostly put them on the rubric (which I have space for, as I'm typing them up) BUT I refer to specific examples from the paper (that is, global comment and then, "see the example I've commented upon on page 5"); (4) I can CHANGE the damn comments/mark if need be; scribbled-out comments on a student's paper both look messy and sometimes prompt students to complain - "I can see that you gave me a 4.5/5 then changed it to 3.5, whyyyyyy?"; there will be occasions where you have to go back and adjust - say, if you dock big marks initially for students who missed a certain component, but then it turns out that the majority missed this component, you might re-visit the assignment question and realize that it was confusingly phrased and be inclined to deduct less - so electronic marks help with this.

 

- Don't be afraid to sometimes tell the students that they're being inappropriate or unprofessional, it's a courtesy, really. If a student sends an e-mail that makes you cringe, tell them so. Don't just say, "that's inappropriate" and also refrain from an exhaustive point-by-point, just point quickly to the irksome thing and then address the request. Many of them will not reward you for this effort by amending their correspondence/conduct. However, I find that those that do rise to the occasion appreciate the advice - after all, it helps then glean more expedient/favourable responses, right? 

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A few more things now that I've thought about this more.

 

Grading:

- It will take time to find your groove. But, you also need to be efficient with your time. See how long the first 2-3 papers/exams/assignments take you then use that to set an approximate average per paper. Use this average time to set a timer. When the timer goes off, you should be done reading, grading, and commenting upon the assignment. The timer will keep you from getting bogged down in a bad paper, writing too many comments, or just slowing down.

- Set regular intervals where you take a break from grading. Grading is hard work and you can't just plow through 30 papers at once most of the time.

- Re: collecting papers electronically. This really depends on you. I've done both paper and electronic grading and, for whatever reason, I am slower when I grade on the computer screen. I also find it easier to get distracted while grading, which may contribute to the slowness. The upside of electronic grading is that you can cut and paste comments, use online grading tools (Turnitin has a whole set of grading remarks you can just drag and drop into a paper, for example), and record the grade immediately. And still I prefer paper.

- Keep meticulous records of grades. I post student grades online but also keep them in an Excel spreadsheet on my computer. There are rare cases where the LMS loses grades so it helps to keep a backup.

- If you find someone that has plagiarized, absolutely follow whatever your university's procedures are and document, document, document. Yes, it's a pain and more paperwork than just failing them for the assignment or course. But what I've learned is that most of the students I've had this problem with are repeat offenders, rather than those doing it for the first time. They don't realize what they are doing is wrong so they do it in multiple courses. Take the time to teach them why it's wrong, to report them appropriately, etc.

 

Essays/Papers:

- If you are teaching for the first time, be prepared to work with students at ALL stages of the writing process. You'll probably want them to turn in thesis statements, outlines, annotated bibliographies, or other preliminary steps if you're requiring a research paper.

- Refer students to the writing center on campus for the line edits, especially if you're seeing earlier stages of the paper. Pass off that work to other people whenever you can. For first year students, you may want to give them a small bit of extra credit (1/3 of a letter grade was common at my PhD institution) to incentivize them to go. Plus, if they build that habit early on, you're helping them.

- Peer review workshops can be incredibly helpful for students, even when you're not teaching freshman comp. Sometimes seeing the problems with someone else's paper helps them realize what problems their paper has. Use this to your advantage!

 

Course Organization:

- Developing a syllabus is hard. Make sure you have clear learning objectives so you and the students know what they should be learning the course, why, and how.

- When deciding on content, make a list of everything you want to cover. That list will be too long. Delete 1/3 of it, approximately. (This does not apply if you have been handed a syllabus for the course.) It sounds insane but, the first time I did this, the course ran much, much smoother.

- Be willing to adapt the readings/topics to fit your students, especially later in the semester. They appreciate it.

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I also have to disagree with NicholasCage's comment.  90-95 percent of academic institutions in the United States are teaching-focused institutions; therefore, most of us will end up there.  Your teaching skills are going to be an important part of the hiring process at those places. 

 

People believe this, until they sit in on hiring comittees.  Of the meetings I've sat in on within my field and asked to sit on for other fields, never once has teaching experience come up. 

 

A conversation I once had with the arts dean went as follows.  Why do we not focus more on teaching quality when debating who to hire?  To which he said "What makes for a university, a reputation of good teaching, or noble prize winnners?".

 

The sentiment was simple, your research will determine your success, at least with the university I'm affiliated with.

 

 

Will teaching skills be important?  Yes, of course.  To the hiring comittee?  I would say no.

 

This isn't to say I agree with it, but that its often simply true. 

 

Alternatively I've also spoken with those who think a TA who has glowing reviews, or vice versa a un-tenure professor with glowing teaching reviews, is probably not committed to research.  Perhaps one of the worst cases where the irrelevancy of teaching ability speculatively arose was with Jeremy Woolfe

 

"The word is out. Last week, the Council of Whitaker College handed down the long-dreaded decision denying tenure to Professor Jeremy M. Wolfe PhD '81. Was it a surprise? Of course not. After all, he did receive the Kiss of Death, also known as the Baker Teaching Award. In truth, our first reaction to the news that Jeremy had won the Baker Award was dismay, because it is well-known MIT lore that if someone is a good enough teacher to earn recognition for it, he/she certainly can't be a good enough researcher to deserve tenure."

 

http://tech.mit.edu/V110/N26/kaplan.26o.html

 

 

Again not to say I agree with it, but to say that people will seriously consider teaching ability in the hiring process, at least from my perspective, has never been true. 

 

Maybe its different in fields that are less research orientated.

Edited by NicholasCage

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I agree that teaching is never as valued as direct research impact in research oriented fields when it comes to hiring decisions at research oriented universities.

 

I do agree that for my field, if you do want a tenure track assistant prof position at a research oriented university, then yes, teaching should be a very low priority for you. The advice I hear is to have a minimal amount of it so that 1) you actually have some experience and 2) hiring committees who only really care about research but want to claim that they care about teaching can point to something on your CV that says you've taught before. I know that my current school does not consider teaching ability at all when it comes to tenure decisions. One prof at my school who was passionate about teaching was asked to spend less time on teaching because his classes were too good. He is now somewhere else, at a school where he feels his teaching is as valued as his research. 

 

That said, I don't think it's sound advice to actually tell graduate students to slack off on TAing. First of all, that article that was linked in NicholasCage's post is almost 25 years old. I think in general, most schools have begun to shift towards valuing teaching as well, even if it's tiny. There are centres for teaching & learning popping up at various campuses and even my super-research-oriented school opened their own Centre for Teaching and Learning a few years ago. 

 

If a student is absolutely certain they want to pursue a career that is purely research, then it makes sense to devote all of their time into research. However, I think with the current job market, it's a very bad idea to limit your career options so much and to me, it's a far better idea to develop your teaching portfolio as much as possible. Personally, I enjoy teaching, so I don't need pragmatic reasons to motivate me but it's still true that while spending time on teaching might not gain you very much towards the most research-oriented jobs, the little extra effort you can do is probably beneficial in the long run because it will increase your chances at a much broader range of careers.

 

Time management is essential in grad school and I'm not saying to say yes to every teaching opportunity. I'm also not saying you should say no every time either. The best answer, I think, is to advise grad students to think about what kind of careers we want after the PhD and to make sure almost everything we do, whether it's teaching or research or otherwise, is a step towards these goals.

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Will teaching skills be important?  Yes, of course.  To the hiring comittee?  I would say no.

...

 

Maybe its different in fields that are less research orientated.

 

This depends almost entirely on where you're applying. I say this as someone that has very recently been on the academic market, btw. If you're applying to research-intensive universities, then no, they won't ask or care much about your teaching skills. My advice about how some job apps will ask for a portfolio, evals, or evidence of effectiveness/excellence is taken directly from job applications I completed this year. These apps included those to R1, R2, SLAC, and regional/directional state universities. For example, American University asks for evidence of teaching effectiveness with your application for a tenure-track position in some fields. I assume that when people ask for materials, it's because they intend to consider them when reviewing applications and because they view those materials (and the qualifications upon which they are based) as important, though I could be wrong of course. It's just been my experience that if people do ask, it's because they do care. The more research-oriented schools (for example, I interviewed for a research intensive TT job with a standard 2/1 teaching load) have not even asked for teaching materials because teaching isn't something they prioritize.

 

Also, I'm curious to know what you mean by fields that are "less research orientated". It'd be great if you could explain that one because I'm not sure at all what you're saying there.

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Also, I'm curious to know what you mean by fields that are "less research orientated". It'd be great if you could explain that one because I'm not sure at all what you're saying there.

 

I'm not really sure.  It was an after thought I had, that as I of course do not know every field, some probably focus less on research than others (why would they all be identical in their emphasis?)

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People believe this, until they sit in on hiring comittees.  Of the meetings I've sat in on within my field and asked to sit on for other fields, never once has teaching experience come up. 

 

A conversation I once had with the arts dean went as follows.  Why do we not focus more on teaching quality when debating who to hire?  To which he said "What makes for a university, a reputation of good teaching, or noble prize winnners?".

 

The sentiment was simple, your research will determine your success, at least with the university I'm affiliated with.

 

 

Will teaching skills be important?  Yes, of course.  To the hiring comittee?  I would say no.

 

 

This is absolutely true for some universities--namely mine, which is a huge research institution. Even in a "teaching heavy" discipline, we have hired several people in the last few years who have maybe one semester of experience teaching their own class. Teaching portfolios were never requested. Evaluations were never requested. (Most of the people at my institution don't really think evaluations say anything about someone's teaching.) Research trumped all.

 

Ironically, those of us who graduate from this same institution have A LOT of teaching experience--by the end of our second year, I'd say we have more teaching experience--in terms of number and diversity of classes taught--than most of the people we hire. We typically get jobs anywhere from SLACs to R1s to R2s and very teaching oriented colleges to community colleges. Most of the time we get jobs at places where teaching is emphasized, and often times teaching experience is instrumental to getting these jobs. Even so, research program matters a great deal. In this day and age of a cutthroat job market, even R2 schools and SLACs won't hire someone if they haven't published.

 

So ... does teaching matter? Yes and no. Depends on the hiring situation. I read somewhere--and I believe that this is true--that quantity of teaching matters less than the diversity of courses taught. It's better to have taught only four classes if those four classes were totally different and requiring different syllabi than to teach 12 sections of freshman comp.

 

I've also heard that there's a "law of diminishing returns" when it comes to teaching. Teaching more and more and more doesn't really help you all that much on the job market. After a certain point it just doesn't matter or impress. No one cares that you taught yourself down to the nub. In fact (and I've experienced this myself) teaching too much leads to a kind of fatigue. Your evaluations seem to plateau. Your creativity kind of lags. Teaching wears you out and takes time away from your research. 

 

So ... going to a school where you teach 2/2 for six years in a row is not necessarily going to translate to a big advantage on the teaching-oriented job market. In an ideal world, you should try to go to a program that offers meaningful teaching experiences while giving you "time off" to finish a dissertation. 

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I also have to disagree with NicholasCage's comment.  90-95 percent of academic institutions in the United States are teaching-focused institutions; therefore, most of us will end up there.  Your teaching skills are going to be an important part of the hiring process at those places.  Plus, even research-intensive institutions would rather have a professor who can connect well with students AND is a great researcher than a professor who is a terrible teacher (unless that second research has mad money).

 

I have to agree with your disagreement. There are over 4000 colleges in the United States, but only about 280 focus on research.

 

Recently, I earned my MA in history at a CSU, which is the tier of the California higher education system that focuses on teaching. About a month or so ago the CSUS history department was hiring a new faculty member, and in one of my classes the professor spent an hour explaining to us their hiring process. A key point was that they want someone with extensive teaching experience. They generally do not favor ABD or freshly minted PHDs. As the professor explained, he got more research support as a graduate student than he does now. They are a little wary of applicants from elite universities with lots of research credentials but little teaching experience, because those kind of candidates are more likely to jump ship at the first opportunity. This is a big concern, because when a faculty member leaves an opening is not created. For the department to hire a new faculty member, the administration has to create a new position, and that does not happen often, especially in recent years. So when a faculty member leaves, it usually means the department (i.e. the tenured faculty) shrinks, resulting in more work for everyone else. In short, they want someone who is gonna stick around, and that means they want someone who enjoys teaching.

Edited by spellbanisher

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On teaching:

 

Something I have learned (am still learning), is that you do not always have to justify yourself to your students.  If you are doing an activity, and you know why you are doing it, and you have made it clear in some way what the point of the activity is, if they challenge you on it it is sometimes alright just to say "because I said so."

 

I used a novel in one of my freshman comp classes, and I got a lot of (inappropriate) grumbling from a student.  We were supposed to be having conferences, and I expressed some anxiety about making the student understand/accept my reasoning for the novel.  Then a friend reminded me that "you are the teacher. What he thinks does not matter."

 

Maybe this is just a problem for push-overs like me, but it's something I'm still working on.  But realizing that you do, in reality, have authority, makes things easier.

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- Have a "warm fuzzies folder". Every nice e-mail from prof or students, solicited or unsolicited, goes in the folder. This will make it easier to compose a teaching dossier later on. If someone says something nice about what a great TA you are, ask them to put that sentiment in an e-mail and send it to you - that might feel weird, but self-advocacy is a good skill to hone.

 

THIS!!! I have one of these that I've kept ever since I got my GED!  It's so much fun to look back on everything I've gathered, and I know I'll be keeping a "happy folder" for grad school as well.  It really gets me through tough times, and I know teaching won't be easy!!

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My little piece of advice, silly as it may seem, is to use a binder and carry it with you to every class. Preferably a binder with tabs. 

 

During my first semester as a TA, I made PowerPoints and uploaded them to the course website after each class, I always handed back graded assignments by the next class meeting, I developed lesson plans, and I brought print-outs with all answers to the preassigned study questions. Basically, I did my job. Nevertheless, some of my student evaluations were "neutral" about whether I was prepared and organized, and some even disagreed. I couldn't help but wonder (a smidge bitterly) what more they could ask of me. 

 

This time around, all of my students gave me highest marks for preparedness and organization, even though I didn't alter my preparation time or methods at all. The only thing that changed was that I began to carry around a binder with all course materials separated by week, rather than bringing only that week's materials. It's such a simple little thing to do to reinforce the impression that you're organized, which I'm beginning to discover carries almost as much weight as actually being organized. (But of course, do be prepared and organized! Off weeks really don't go unnoticed!)

 

So there's one quick trick that can elevate at least that part of the students' perceptions of you, and I also found that it made me feel more put together as well - and so more confident. 

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You should never care more than your students.

 

That doesn't mean you should shirk your duties or half-ass your lesson planning or grading, but treat all students equally with the average amount of energy for each one. Don't exhaust yourself by responding to every single email as you see them pop up (especially if a student is sending you one of those long grade-grubbing emails or if the same student is making up excuses every time something is due) - don't respond. If you have to, send a quick 1-2 sentence response and invite them to discuss the matter during office hours. Most students take advantage of the immediacy of technology, but most of them don't care enough to come to office hours.

 

I personally grew exhausted last semester because I worried about students who didn't come to class or the students who didn't turn anything in, but at the end of the day, you're not the one being graded. They are. And even if they complain during evaluations about the fact that you didn't hand-hold them all throughout the semester, the higher-ups can tell the difference between an honest critic and a rant anyway.

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BE NICE, especially with grades. Don't give any grades you feel you do not want yourself. It's sometimes easy to be consumed by the new powers, trust me.

 

I agree that TAs should be nice and not overstep their "powers". But I definitely do not agree that we should be nice with grades and only give grades we would also want. Remember that TAs are graduate students who, on average, got into grad schools because they tend to do better in courses than the average undergraduate student. Therefore, it's not surprising that some of your students will do fairly poorly in certain classes and I would say that you should not be afraid to fail or give a D grade if that is indeed the quality of their work. 

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Yeah, I would wholeheartedly disagree with being nice on grading.

 

I've stopped feeling bad about poor grades. It was extremely difficult for me as a 4.0 student to understand that some of my students were perfectly happy with a C in the class. It's a tough pill to swallow when they just don't care that much. However, I make sure to take the time out to explain to students the differences between A, B, C, and D work so that they can choose for themselves how much effort they want to put in. I teach public speaking, so it's fairly cut and dry, but I am able to finish a vast majority of my grading the same day things are turned in. It leaves me with a lot of time to do my own work not having to worry about tracking assignments for my students. Even if you need longer than that, I do suggest blocking out a period of time to just knock it out all at once so that you can grade fairly and efficiently.

 

I do agree with geeking out a bit. You might be saddled with a horribly boring subject matter but your excitement at least makes it more bearable for the students and gets them actively involved.

 

Be self-reflexive. Mid-term evaluations are a great tool for monitoring how well you class is going. I use it to ask my students about both what is working and what is not working. I then send a lengthy email responding to it letting them know what things we can change and what things we can't. Constantly seek to improve yourself, whether you are a great teacher or not.

 

Take it seriously but don't spend all your time worrying about it. I thought about dropping out of grad school because of an A- in my second semester. I now realize how silly that is. I have one student every semester who absolutely hates my teaching style. I do my best to try and accommodate them but if my style works for 47/48 students, then I don't really worry that one person thinks I am the worst teacher they have every met and I am incompetent and don't know how to teach and that they can't believe I even got this job.

 

Lastly, ask for help when you need it. If you are entering a M.A. program, they are really just teaching you how to write at a higher level and easing you into teaching. I'm entering my Ph.D. program next year so I can't speak on that.

 

Good luck!

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