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

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3 hours ago, timetobegin said:

I am neither masculine or white. "Approachable, casual, and conversational" are incredibly broad terms you can incorporate into your own teaching style, in any interpretation you choose. 

I recognized the former from your reference to breaking a heel, yes. But I just wanted to point out that this is hard for some to negotiate than it is for others. This observation is neither mine nor particularly controversial.

Edited by telkanuru

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1 hour ago, telkanuru said:

I recognized the former from your reference to breaking a heel, yes. But I just wanted to point out that this is hard for some to negotiate than it is for others. This observation is neither mine nor particularly controversial.

Many things are more difficult in academic when you're a WOC. Perhaps it depends on your area and your program, but entering your job with the mindset of being approachable and casual in a professional environment is not a difficulty. Then you can always re-evaluate and deal with situations and obstacles as they occur.

Remembering what I liked about my TAs in undergrad and emulating their teaching style is simply my advice.

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On 12/7/2017 at 9:07 PM, telkanuru said:

Note that this is an avenue of approach that is more possible the whiter and more masculine you present. Women and people of color often have trouble with performatively divesting themselves of certain aspects of their authority.

Yes. And women are of course *expected* to be more approachable, friendlier, and infinitely available. If you're a woman who does not uphold this end of the unspoken social contract in the way students (who have been conditioned to expect extra attention and ~nurturing care~ from women) think you should, you will oftentimes open yourself up to criticism for being "arrogant" or "inaccessible." 

Most of the time my students do evaluate me as "approachable" and "friendly" (which always makes me flinch a little due to the gendered expectations I'm inevitably playing into). But in every class there is a small minority who see things very differently, and I often think it's due to off-tilt expectations. They are oftentimes overly sensitive to criticism (the "B" grade on a paper; the gentle correction in class). You will never, ever please those students, so don't knock yourself out trying. Like, for instance, one time as a graduate instructor I had a student who needed extra help and wanted to meet with me very often, so I made myself abundantly available to him, staying after class and offering to read extra drafts over email. This took a LOT of energy on my part--energy and time for which I wasn't compensated, of course. 

When I got my evaluations back after the semester was over, I found that this student had reamed me, writing "she doesn't do a good job of caring for her students and shouldn't be allowed to teach at this university. Her feedback was useless and she and would take FOREVER to respond to my emails." 

Moral of the story: if a student is overly demanding and insists upon sucking you dry as a resource, they are unlikely to appreciate the sacrifices you are indeed making for them. If you are a woman, you are probably going to be held to an even higher (and impossible) standard, and then criticized for not catering enough. So it's best to observe office hours and do what you can, but to not overextend yourself. It's nice to stay 5-10 minutes after class, as someone recommended, but it's also okay to "shut down" and go home. You are a TA, not a customer service rep, and your main obligation is to yourself.

And if "friendly" or "outgoing" isn't a natural part of your personality, then that's also okay. Make your peace with your personality (maybe slightly shier, more businesslike, or more reserved) and move forward. You have other valuable assets to offer your students--your knowledge and thoroughness, for example--and not every professor or instructor needs to be bubbly and nice in order to be effective. There are other ways to be a good teacher. Students see this and many will appreciate it. Even if you're not a barrel of laughs like Joe's TA or bringing cookies to class like Mary's GI, you will always have students who appreciate your competence. 

Moreover, students need to learn that adults are not always going to be their cheerleaders, asking them about their weekends and greeting them each by name every single day. And if you want to be the TA who wears a suit or a tie or work clothes to teach your damn class, then goddammit, that's your call. 

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Has anyone had any experience with TA'ing online? One of the programs which I'm applying to offers funding, even for online students, so there is a possibility I could be an online TA. Any advice for those of us who may come upon this? If you have no online TA experience but taught college courses, what are the different challenges of TA'ing/Teaching online versus in a classroom? 

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On 12/29/2017 at 1:19 AM, ClassicsCandidate said:

Has anyone had any experience with TA'ing online? One of the programs which I'm applying to offers funding, even for online students, so there is a possibility I could be an online TA. Any advice for those of us who may come upon this? If you have no online TA experience but taught college courses, what are the different challenges of TA'ing/Teaching online versus in a classroom? 

I had two online classes I TA'd for over the Fall semester. At least for me, I rarely had interaction with the students that I did not initiate myself. Most of my work was editing the online classroom, updating documents for the professor, and grading essays and forum discussion posts. I may have had 5 unsolicited emails from students the entire semester. In my experience if you want interaction with the students you will have to create it: comment on their forum posts, email students just to check up on how they are understanding the material, and always add substantive comments to their work when grading. Otherwise, it was mostly receiving a to-do list from the professor every week and doing those tasks. 

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Be prepared to suffer if spelling and grammar are important to you.

My semester as a GTA for a graduate level class was pain.  .... use active voice.... don't start a sentence with a conjunction... I said use active voice, weren't you paying attention the last five of your papers I graded?!?!??!?!... sentence fragment... weasel words... what are you even saying here?   and so on....

 

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On 1/8/2018 at 10:43 AM, dmueller0711 said:

I had two online classes I TA'd for over the Fall semester. At least for me, I rarely had interaction with the students that I did not initiate myself. Most of my work was editing the online classroom, updating documents for the professor, and grading essays and forum discussion posts. I may have had 5 unsolicited emails from students the entire semester. In my experience if you want interaction with the students you will have to create it: comment on their forum posts, email students just to check up on how they are understanding the material, and always add substantive comments to their work when grading. Otherwise, it was mostly receiving a to-do list from the professor every week and doing those tasks. 

Thank you for that information! It's good to know that that's how it'll be for an online course. That seems rather manageable if I'm doing a full-time online course load and whatnot. 
I appreciate your input! 

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As others have mentioned, I would suggest having the students in your class, or in your section complete midterm evaluations, though make sure to limit your questions to you specifically if you are not the instructor. Doing so allowed my students to feel like they had a voice in how the section was run. Make an effort to apply their suggestions. I think it has a real impact on the final evaluations at the end. 

Edited by DGrayson

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If you are teaching a required introductory course that is primarily freshmen, just know that Fall semester is always better than Spring semester. Always. I learned that the hard way over the last couple years...

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Don’t know if anyone has said this, but something that was extrememly helpful for me was a open relationship with the professor who I was a TA for. During my MA, the Professor made sure we were okay before anything. If we needed to get research done or had a major assignment to do, he knew about it and gave support when necessary. We still did our responsibilities for his class, but knowing his support was a major help in the process. 

 

Edited by jocorac
Wrong word

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6 hours ago, 2much said:

minimize number of f--ks you give about the teaching. write a paper instead.

This, of course, depends on one's post-graduation goals. If one aims to work at a SLAC or teaching-focused institution, additional papers aren't nearly as helpful as being able to speak and write convincingly about yourself as a teacher.

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On 1/8/2018 at 1:43 PM, dmueller0711 said:

I had two online classes I TA'd for over the Fall semester. At least for me, I rarely had interaction with the students that I did not initiate myself. Most of my work was editing the online classroom, updating documents for the professor, and grading essays and forum discussion posts. I may have had 5 unsolicited emails from students the entire semester. In my experience if you want interaction with the students you will have to create it: comment on their forum posts, email students just to check up on how they are understanding the material, and always add substantive comments to their work when grading. Otherwise, it was mostly receiving a to-do list from the professor every week and doing those tasks. 

Agreed. The instructor on record will usually have a developed schedule of due dates and tasks for you. But for the most part, I did not hear from the students unless I contacted them first. 

My $0.02: I TA'd an online language learning course during my second year in my MA. My experience was mostly giving feedback to online submissions, including multiple choice, fill in the blank, and some open-ended writing. It was difficult at first to translate feedback language into an online setting (since you don't have body language, things like that), especially if you have to grade, because the students will usually not go to you if something is unclear, but rather the instructor on record. My line of communication about feedback with my instructor on record was always very much open. They also had two in-person assignments that I would make sure to attend if possible so that I could have face-to-face interaction with those students. I also made sure to log the hours when I did my grading and wrote down what I had graded so that I would know what parts of the semester (ex. right before/after an exam) were taking up most of my time so I could plan accordingly - though this is something that can be done for in-person instruction as well, it was particularly useful in the online setting. 

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I've TA'd five courses, and I've been hired by my department to look into how our professors and TAs respond to learners in distress, and to recommend department-wide change moving forward.

My biggest tip is to remember that you are not a psychologist.  If you notice any sign that one of your learners is in distress (whether they make a disclosure of sexual violence, suicidal ideation, a suicide plan, disordered eating, etc, OR whether they cry in office hours or send you an anxious email) tell the professor or the department head.  Do not tell them that it's normal.  Do not assume they're just trying to get a higher grade out of you.  Now, when over 8% of undergrads seriously consider suicide and over 51% experience what they call "overwhelming anxiety", do not take the chance that you, as not the expert, incorrectly evaluate what is going on.  You are part of educating the whole learner, and that includes responding to their emotional development.  But that also means that it's important that you are not a psychologist.  You don't have the resources to pinpoint what's going on, nor provide a learner who really is in crisis with what they need.  So inform the people who can help the learner obtain those things, do not assume it's nothing.

Edited by HayleyM

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On 9/4/2014 at 11:16 AM, GradHooting said:

I have a question for you guys:

 

Suppose you are TAing for a science-related lab.  What would you recommend for encouraging class participation?  I realize that much of the interest of the students I am taching is not in my control.  Though, it would be nice to manage to get at least one or two answers to open-ended question, maybe to encourage discussion.

Again, tips from having TAd five courses--learners (like everyone else) do not like silence.  If you ask a question and everyone's staying quiet, don't cave and answer it yourself.  If you stand still long enough (which is to say, 30 seconds to one minute, I'll bet you), someone will speak.  This even works when you tell them you're doing it.  "I'm going to stand here quietly for one minute, and I bet one of you will say something because the silence will feel awkward".  I've done it just that way in class before, and someone always speaks up.  Be confident in your own pedagogical abilities and trust your techniques.

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Re: the earlier discussion about grading, I think it's important to remember that they've earned their grades.  Don't go on a power trip, and if you've legitimately not taught them something well enough (more than half of the class doesn't get it) then you need to address that.  But if it's on them, do what you can to help them improve moving forward.  I also think it's reasonable to evaluate each learner's progress against themselves for future assessments, not against each other.  Which is to say I might hold a learner to a higher standard if they earned an A+ on the first exam than another learner who earned a B- on the first exam but has really been putting in work to improve since then.

Another micro-tip I have is to grade on a 50 point scale, not a 100 point scale.  Which is to say, Fs go in as 50s, not as 0s.  Learners can recover from 50s, they can't recover from 0s. 

You can also make assessments formative for learners who score below a certain threshold, but then be prepared to explain yourself to the B+ leaners re: why they don't have a chance to redo the thing.  I definitely wouldn't recommend this for classes larger than like 36.

Personally, I'm a fan of keeping all assessments formative, because it allows the learners to focus on the material instead of on their grades.

Edited by MastigosAtLarge

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I am not TAing yet, but on March 15, I have to give a lecture to my seminar group about parts of my research (it's an interdisciplinary seminar). I'm a bit nervous, especially since English is my second language. I don't know how I should structure my 20-30 minutes of lecture + the question period. Any tips or advice? (It's my first time ever giving a lecture to a class, but I have done dozen of public speaking events in other contexts than academia).

Edited by Adelaide9216

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18 hours ago, Adelaide9216 said:

I am not TAing yet, but on March 15, I have to give a lecture to my seminar group about parts of my research (it's an interdisciplinary seminar). I'm a bit nervous, especially since English is my second language. I don't know how I should structure my 20-30 minutes of lecture + the question period. Any tips or advice? (It's my first time ever giving a lecture to a class, but I have done dozen of public speaking events in other contexts than academia).

When in doubt, write it out.

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Don't forget about yourself! Remind students that you're a student as well and have your own deadlines, things, etc. Also, don't spend too much effort if the students look like they don't give a rat's ass. You'll just lose energy and get discouraged.

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I will begin TA this September [2018] and I am kinda anxious .. itis my first experience and on the top of that, it is the very same department as Lindsay Shephard's.

Any help? Hints?

tnx

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This thread is really helpful. Lots of thoughtful advice. (I love this forum, I'm amazed by the quality of answers we find here which constracts with what you can find on the internet nowadays).

I am probably going to be a TA next term (Fall) and I saw that my uni is offering workshops for new TAs and that they are paid. I am definetly going to take advantage of those. 

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I'm still fairly new to TA life, so here are some lessons I've learned so far: 

  1. Be firm and consistent. When you start making allowances for one student, you start making them for every student, and this will blow up in your face if you're teaching a large class. If you're firm and consistent from the beginning, the students will do what they need to do to get their work in on time or to get feedback they need. 
  2. Separate your impression of a student's attitude from your impression of their work. For students who have a good attitude and are engaged, spend the time giving them feedback so they can improve and properly earn a high grade. Our natural human instinct is to help out people we like, but especially for classes graded on a curve, if we bump a student up unfairly, another student is pulled down unfairly. 
  3. Give feedback as soon as you can so that students have the time to learn. 
  4. Save all of your materials down so that you can reuse them for future semesters. 
  5. You might end up teaching content you never learned when you took the class yourself, especially if you're teaching at a new university. See if you can get materials from a previous semester to get ahead, and don't feel ashamed to reach out to the other TAs if necessary. 

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