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Not that all of my students are bad, some are amazingly awesome. And obviously not all freshman are automatically horrible students. My problem is that I have a very low level of patience and this is my first semester as a teaching assistant. I realize that I might have to tell some of them the same thing over and over, but I have a hard time doing this.
Unfortunately to make things worse, my class is required for people outside of the department (it is introduction to anthropology). What this means is that there are many students in the natural sciences who have never had to have discussion sections or who want everything to be very objective and concrete. I should be thrilled to be exposing new people to issues of human diversity (which I feel is important in any major), but sometimes I get extremely aggrivated with hearing the same questions - that I have already answered - over and over again.
I'm sure there are some of you who have encountered similar if not identical issues, any suggestions/feedback would be greatly appreciated!
Hope that helps a bit. Neither way totally wipes out the questions, but it should reduce the volume a bit, and it puts the responsibility on them to get the information that you've made available.
I TA a 300 level class, and whenever I start to think about spoon-feeding them information, I remind myself that they are in third- or fourth-year, and that, by this point, they SHOULD know a thing or two about personal responsibility, reading directions, and finding information out on their own. And when I think back to my huge first-year courses, I remember how much the massive lecture hall courses were about weeding out the people who weren't able to fend for themselves in a university/college environment.
As a TA, it is not your responsibility to lead these ADULTS by the hand. They should be smart enough to figure it out on their own, and ambitious enough to do so... knowing that their marks (and future academic path) depend upon it. And if they don't, maybe they don't belong in college. This isn't higher-level high school, this is post-secondary (non-mandatory) education.
I know it's heavy-handed, but quite frankly, there's a reason why it's called the "Ivory Tower" and why we have such things as trade school and career college.
I would still take the tack of saying things once, repeating them, and then repeating them yet again... three times should emphasise things enough (and you can always take the route of saying "when I repeat something, that means it's important, so you should take note of it"). Anything else, like everyone above has said, could be put in some sort of archivable (and independently accessible) format where you don't have to repeat yourself all the time.
Then again, I'm marking exams right now, and these third- and fourth-year students haven't mastered reading questions correctly...
I am now going to go read something totally unrelated to anthropology. Stormed Fortress anyone? :)
Oh and sleep, did I mention I haven't slept much this week?
Every class has its particular percentage of those who actively participate, those who participate when asked, and those who refuse to participate. I find these groups of students often have a corresponding grade status in the class. Sometimes, that's just the way it goes.
20/20 hindsight, here are some things to try next semester:
On the first day of class, give them notes. Highly suggest they should write these down so there isn't any confusion later. In the notes, explain you only give notes and assignments in class. If they miss a class, they need to get their notes or assignments from a trusted classmate (from YOUR section). This puts ownership on students to attend or create a solid network for themselves.
Next, tell them that before the next class meeting they must review the syllabus on their own and email you (or post on a message board, if your class has an online component) with three questions about the syllabus, with the promise you will answer them before the add/drop date. The nice thing about this is 1.) you're making their comprehension of the syllabus an assignment, 2.) you have an email / message board basically acting as a receipt that they've read and understand the syllabus, and 3.) you're able to make your syllabus clarifiations all at once.
The message board option is nice, because if down the road they have questions, you can refer them to the message boards and your responses to student questions.
Finally, if there's so much great information on the websites and you want them to review it so you don't have to take up class time talking about it, try these three steps: 1.) put it on the syllabus that they are responsible for reading and understanding all information on the course website and the online materials may appear on the test, 2.) explain on the first day (in those wonderful notes I mentioned) you have a concepts-driven class, meaning if they don't make an attempt to learn concepts as they come along, they will get left far behind in a simple matter of weeks; it's up to them to stay current and learn, and 3.) require them to read and take quizzes on the material before coming to the next class meeting.
I use many of these tactics to great success in my "Introduction to Composition" and "Introduction to Creative Writing" sections.
To promote discussion, I made stupid jokes in periods of silence. If they want me to stop, they can talk. Alternately, be extremely patient and sit there in silence until someone says something useful. Be prepared to sit there for 15 minutes or more. Someone will crack.
For next semester you could try the following: Give a quiz about the syllabus on day two. Or, have students sign a form stating that they have read and understand the syllabus. The latter, in particular, can make them take it more seriously. Also, I know several people who have a stock email prepared that refers students to the syllabus when such questions arise.
In my online classes, that statement is in a bigREAD ME FIRST file AND two other places, AND I give them a quiz which only about 1/2 of them end up taking.
What I mean is that adults should be treated as capable, responsible adults, not as perpetually "transitioning" adultolescents.
I find that making your expectations as clear as possible is the best way to avert confusion. N.B.: There's a difference between making your expectations clear and being a tyrant.
After ten years of part-timing/TA'ing, I've also become convinced that some students really do want to get a rise out of you, and that cool detachment, pointing to your policy, and saying "I'm sorry" work wonders. Let the few spoilers puff up like pouty toads. They'll learn. You can defuse their personal woundedness in other ways: making eye contact and smiling at them in class; asking them to meet with you in your office for a friendly chat; putting them in charge of something.
Always put the onus for course responsibility and any remediation outside of class hours back onto the student. You'll quickly earn a reputation for being tough but caring.
A big part of my job (as I see it) is to teach, explicitly, what academic life demands of students and what I and other instructors expect of their work (for the young'uns, this frequently includes explaining what behavior is unacceptable/ counterproductive/self-defeating). I also disabuse them of the notion that the university is somehow not "the real world," a fantasy to which many juniors and seniors subscribe.
The more connections I can get them to make between what we're studying and the so-called "real world," the more basic concepts (e.g., why it's important to cite sources correctly) I can get across to them successfully. Start with their passions and their unquestioning devotion to careerism and work up from there.
And, of course, be friendly, but remember you're not a peer of theirs. Keep a stash of Kleenex handy, but don't bring it to their dorm.
>They should be smart enough to figure it out on their own,
Doesn't that backfire though? I would think that if you start having enough students failing under a TA that the college would be looking at it as if it's a problem with the TA.