Fun With Teaching!

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Fun With Teaching!

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Ago 8, 2006, 11:51am

So, who here has a teaching assignment for the coming fall? Do you teach your own class, lead a recitation, discussion group or lab section, or just grade, photocopy and run the AV equipment?

How do you balance your teaching assignment with your other responsibilities? Do the more experienced instructors among us have words of wisdom or cautionary misadventures to share? Are there any resources you'd care to recommend?

Let's dish!

2eccentrica Primeira Mensagem
Ago 9, 2006, 9:48am

I'll be teaching first-year undergrad seminars (plus marking essays, doing film screenings, etc.) for the second time.

I've only got one previous year of teaching experience (2004-5) and I suppose I do have a few cautionary words. Although I really enjoyed the teaching, I found it very difficult to balance it with writing my PhD. The preparation took a long time, and more importantly, I found myself thinking about the seminars a lot, rather than my own work. I got plenty of reading done, and other aspects of research that don't require quite the same level of mental concentration, but I found that I didn't get any significant writing done during the teaching year. My supervisor was not happy.

I took a year off teaching (2005-6) and managed to write the majority of my thesis, so I'm going to teach again this year. I suppose my advice would be, try not to let the teaching take over, don't let your students take advantage of you, and make sure you make enough time for your own writing (and thinking).

3jwd879 Primeira Mensagem
Ago 9, 2006, 10:55am

I'll be leading a recitation section of intro to chemistry for engineering students this fall, and this will be my first teaching experience.

When I was an undergrad, recitations were all about getting the TA to give us the answers to the problem sets. I don't want to fall into that trap, but like eccentrica warns, I'm worried that preparing other activities will take too much time and attention away from my other responsibilities.

Talking to other, more advanced, students in my department, their attitude seems to be "Teaching sucks, put as little time and effort into it as possible." I am really nervous about teaching, honestly, and I appreciate tips from the more experienced!

Ago 9, 2006, 5:05pm

Teaching sucks, put as little time and effort into it as possible.

I realize where this attitude comes from, but I think this is very unfair to the students your colleagues are teaching. If research is taking up too much time, and the grad student doesn't feel she/he can devote a decent amount of time to the students, she has no business teaching. Period. The students taking that course are paying increasingly high tuition rates, and they deserve some effort from their instructor. Obviously you don't want the kids taking advantage of you or absorbing your time, but there are ways to balance it to be fair to both them and your research.

One of the easiest ways to do this is designate "student" time and "research" time. Only see students during office hours and allot 1 hour every evening to respond to student emails/phone calls. If you can, try to arrange it so that their assignment deadlines do not conflict with yours.

Ago 10, 2006, 8:03am

The problem is yes, the students are paying high tuition fees, so they expect a lot, but none of that money gets to the lowly postgraduate teaching assistants. The students can often feel quite isolated at the beginning, and they often feel like their GTAs are their only point of contact with 'The University'. So they end up coming to you for help on things which are really nothing to do with you, just because you're a relatively friendly face. It's easy to feel a bit protective towards them and to try to help, but I think it's usually better to point them in the direction of their personal tutor, or some other member of staff who is actually in a position to help (and from a selfish point of view, who is getting paid for being a personal tutor, and doesn't have a thesis to write!)

What I'm trying to say is by all means help the students out, but set boundaries and stick to them.

Ago 10, 2006, 9:19am

I'll be teaching an American History freshmen survey course this fall. This will be my third time teaching this course. I agree with some of the postings above, that teaching can be quite diverting from one's research work. However, after getting beyond the initial preparatory period, the load lightens somewhat and the process becomes a bit less time-consuming.

Another thought, from my own perspective. I plan to be teaching more or less regularly as a part of my academic career. Therefore, I regard opportunities to teach not so much as intrusions on my dissertation work (although they clearly are) but more as valuable time to hone my skills, improve my schtick, and add to my c.v.

7sylphette Primeira Mensagem
Ago 10, 2006, 10:26am

I'll be teaching my own frosh writing seminar again (my 7th semester of teaching, including discussion section leading). Teaching first semester is, in my opinion, easier than teaching second semester. By the time January rolls around, (at least) my students are somewhat jaded, and some have developed a bit of attitude. I always have a few students who think they know everything already, a few students who don't come to class and/or hand everything in late with the most asinine excuses in tow, but the rest are quite willing to participate. Well, most of the time.

Because I'm kind of young, we have a really casual classroom atmosphere, which is good and bad. Bad because I think it means the students don't take the courses quite as seriously as they could and/or complain a ton, but good because there aren't very many boundaries, and people generally feel comfortable speaking out.

I probably could prep a hell of a lot more than I do. I don't generally prepare lectures; I'm incredibly nervous about the future prospect of teaching a more lecture-based and/or large class!

Ago 10, 2006, 11:19am

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Ago 10, 2006, 12:03pm

jwd, I didn’t care much for those recitations either. *crickets chirping* "I, uh, need some help with question 39?" *more crickets…a tumbleweed rolls by…a wolf howls in the night*

It sounds like your department is not giving you as much support as you would like. I have the impression that you’re looking for some really concrete advice - I apologize in advance if I am being presumptuous or condenscending. Does your institution have any sort of new TA training? If yours is anything like mine was, it will mostly offer: (1) many reminders not to be a perv, and (2) buzzword-filled, abstract statements along the lines of, “Student motivation and performance are enhanced by feelings of mastery and control.”

Item (2) is actually a good recommendation – it’s a sneaky way of suggesting that you let your students do most of the work for you. Break your recitation into smaller groups, and assign each group a key topic from that week’s lectures. For the next recitation, each group is responsible for a very brief oral summary and a one-page written study guide to be distributed to the class. (Make sure your lecture professor is prepared to back you up if one of your students should complain about all of the unfair extra work.)

You’ll be able to quickly correct your student’s misperceptions and identify gaps in their understanding, and they’ll be motivated to show up prepared so they don’t look like dolts in front of their peers. Let them know you will call on them at random, and redirect their questions to one another.

If you make brief how-to-solve-it handouts for quantitative problems, you will be like a god to them. Clearly reasoning through example problems is almost always helpful, but make it very plain that you will answer specific questions related to the problem sets only at office hours.

In my experience, students totally love (1) getting their graded work back promptly (2) review sheets and (3) when you swear. Everything else is gravy.

Best of luck to you - let us know how it goes!

Ago 10, 2006, 3:55pm

Teaching can be a really insidious way to procrastinate. The trouble is that your class provides near immediate feedback that you either don't get or don't want from your advisor. The classroom is also an area where I feel competent and in control. It's tempting to spend more time on class prep.

Faced with the decision of whether to work on a chapter rewrite or a worksheet for class, I've often been tempted to start with the class prep--after all, both need to be done, so why not start with the easy stuff, the stuff that will have an audience of 20 instead of one or two (perhaps highly critical) people? Sometimes I've found myself only getting the class prep done, however,...

So jwd879's department's (fairly common, I suspect) attitude toward's grad student teaching is understandable in these terms. We're told that our first job is our diss and our second is teaching and that we should excel in both. But research first.

More practically, I am a fan of McKeachie's Teaching Tips.

Ago 10, 2006, 6:07pm

I'll be teaching a first year writing course in the fall focusing on race and ethnicity. I consider teaching central to the work I'm doing. I love teaching, difficult though it may be. It's a privilege to be able to teach in universities, and one I take very seriously.

I'm curious to know from folks what texts they are teaching or have taught?

Ago 22, 2006, 11:09pm

I love teaching! Because my area is comp/rhet, I've primarily taught my own composition courses at different levels (although I did spend 2 semester's TAing for lit courses). This semester, I'm teaching a freshman comp course linked to a freshman interest group (students take 3 classes together).

It does take a lot of time - especially when you read and comment on multiple drafts. However, I've resigned myself to the fact that I will be working my butt off for the next two years (disseration writing) and following that if I am blessed with a tenure-track job. I expect to work at least 60 hours a week - probably more, though.

I'm glad I knew what I was getting into, though. I've seen way too many people go to grad school not knowing what they were in for. It isn't pretty. And I know way to many people on anti-anxiety medications. Grad school can be a stress pit. I've had a few fantasies lately about "Snakes in the English Department" ;-)

Ago 23, 2006, 10:35am

I'll be the odd one out and say I'll be doing some teaching at the elementary school level this year. :)

Oh what fun it is to pay a ridiculous large amount of money to work an 8-6 job without getting paid!! The beauty of teaching...... oh, the sarcasm. :P It'll be interesting, that's for sure. Is it the same for all of you? Or is your tuition covered because you teach a class?

Thankfully, those who go into teaching little kiddies don't go into for the money (mainly because it's just not there!) or it'd be a hard chunk of reality to swallow. ;)

Best of luck to all you teachers of the college-aged this semester!
Chelsea :)

Ago 23, 2006, 7:55pm

We get a small stipend. In my department it is a small small small stipend.

Ago 23, 2006, 11:02pm

In response to Qwofacenosehead:

This semester I am using The Craft of Research and quite a few essays. I've listed some of them in my most recent blog post ( If you want to contact me, either leave a message on my blog or send a message to my profile page and I will give you my email address in a "private" comment. I'd post it here, but I fear the spambots!

Ago 23, 2006, 11:03pm

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Ago 25, 2006, 11:52pm

Sorry about the string o' deletes. I tried to post, nothing happened, so I tried again. Not long after that, LibraryThing went down. When it returned, it posted all of my tries. Sorry again!!!!

24nicole26 Primeira Mensagem
Jan 29, 2007, 3:56pm

i am a psychology phd student and i teach undergrad psyc classes each semester. for the intro students, i give them an extra credit option to read a book and write a paper on how it relates to psychology. i have a 100 - item list of great books with psychological themes, from disorders, addictions and rapes to fiction books with mystery, and murder. ive gotten great feedback on the assignment.

Fev 22, 2008, 9:41pm

colombe -
Actually, in Georgia, a new B.A. or B.S. in education at the middle or high school level starts at almost $20,000 MORE than a college instructor with an M.A. or M.S. and $15,000 more than a new college asst.professor with a PhD. Tech school instructors also get paid more starting than college instructors and asst. profs. However, in the long run, the college professor catch up and pass the K-12 and Tech folks.
State salaries are PUBLIC info - you can look them up.