Advice for a Graduate Teaching Assistant

Discussion in 'College' started by Geologygirl, Jun 8, 2011.

  1. Geologygirl

    Geologygirl Comrade

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    Jun 8, 2011

    I just completed my first semester as a GTA in a science lab class and the student evaluations I got back were horrible. I got an overall 3.33 out of 5 for effectiveness in the classroom. I would love some advice on how to be a better teacher. Some of the comments that students wrote were pretty nasty.

    1.) Apparently I was not clear when I presented material.

    I may have not been able to convey the material as well as an experienced teacher, but I hope to improve with practice.

    2.) I had unreal expectations.

    I graded my students based on their answers as opposed to if they showed up to class or not. I would give partial credit but if a person only did half of the lab then I would only give them half of the grade (50%). I though since it was a college class that grading them on their actual work was important. I have heard that some of the other TAs will give people and A for simply attempting the labs. Is this a standard practice?
    I also required 2 papers each two paragraphs in length, and gave five 10 minute short quizzes during the semester in addition to the labs. Is this too much to expect from a 1 unit class?

    3.) Office Hour Attendance.

    I also had people giving me a low rating on my attendance to my office hours. I never missed a single office hour all semester and I would often meet with students on my own time (unpaid) to help them if they were unable to meet during the assigned office hour time. I am not sure how I could have improved on this, but if anyone has suggestions I would love to hear them.

    I also had a lot of other factors which effected my teaching last semester. One problem had to do with the fact that certain people did not show up on time. I taught a 9 am class, and many days the person who had access to the PowerPoint projector, and also the lab technician who was in charge of the Issue Room simply would not have arrived before my class period. When this happened I had to make due as best I could with whatever supplies were readily available in the room. Hopefully next semester this wont be as much of an issue since we are getting smart classrooms set up over the summer.

    I also had no form of training before entering the classroom besides an hour long safety class, and a few days notice that I was teaching before the semester began. I think a class used to be available to TAs to help teach us how to teach, but it is no longer offered at my university. I really want to improve my teaching skills and become a better teacher. Would anyone possibly know of any good books which would help me be a better college classroom teacher? I am especially interested in books which explain how to break up material and make it more understandable for people.
     
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  3. cutNglue

    cutNglue Magnifico

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    Jun 8, 2011

    One of the best things I think you could do right now is observe a few other TAs and teachers and see what you like, what seems effective and what you could use to improve your own teaching.
     
  4. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    Jun 8, 2011

    Rockhubby (so called because my husband is a geologist) had an equally rough time in his grad school TA time. I anonymously audited one of his classes and saw students complain about him because he had the audacity to grade papers for writing style (spelling, grammar) as well as content. It may not be YOU, in other words.
     
  5. KatherineParr

    KatherineParr Comrade

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    Jun 8, 2011

    Well, first you want to distinguish between the numerical and the comment evaluations. You're in CA, maybe at a UC? At UCLA we had a front page with bubbles and the back page comments.

    IMO, 3.3 isn't bad numerically. You will bring that up over time - everyone does. Just practice your approach, and compare your expectations against other GTAs in the same course. If your assignments are too demanding, dial them back a little. If not, stick to your guns. What you did for attendance seems fine to me. I taught a discussion section every quarter for 3 years and never gave more than 20% for attendance (ie, cut too many times and you're going to get a C, but you can't get an A from showing up.).

    On the comments, you can discount some right off. If you observed office hours, and no one showed up - that's their mistake. Maybe they mixed you up with another TA. Maybe they had your office number wrong. Same thing with grading (I agree with Catnfiddle here). Students always hate tough grading, even when they do well. You just have to accept that.

    It sounds like you had a baptism by fire. So keep in mind that next time you'll have experience, more confidence, and a better lab. All those things will help make the evals better.
     
  6. BLHutch25

    BLHutch25 Rookie

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    Jun 12, 2011

    I would say that 3.33 out of 5 isn't all that bad. College Administrators seem to think that the students give unbiased evaluations, but the reality is that it usually comes down to their grade. Many times the things that they complain about are THEIR problems, not yours.

    I once had a student go to the College President and complain because I did not give out copies of my power point slides....

    As far as improving goes, seek out those who you consider to be the best faculty members in your department. Write down what they do that makes them effective in your opinion. If possible, go and observe their classes. Talk to them and get their imput.
     
  7. Geologygirl

    Geologygirl Comrade

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    Jul 10, 2011

    Thank you all for your advice! I really appreciate it. If I am given the oppertunity to teach again this coming semester I will definitly go hunt another professor down and do some observations.

    I was feeling pretty down at the end of the semester after giving those kids my what I felt like was my heart and soul but I am putting it into perspective now. I am also rethinking how I would teach certain topics in the future to make them more understandable to the nonmajor.
     
  8. kme93

    kme93 Companion

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    Jul 18, 2011

    I was a TA too. I taught all 4 semesters I was getting my masters. That rating actually isn't bad at all. Here are a couple things you have to remember:
    - Some students just fill in all 3s (like if it's a 1-5 rating - a lot of students just put 3 on everything. they don't care and just want to finish it as quickly as possible)
    - Some students may not be making good grades and they're blaming it on you.
    My rating was never above a 3 and my classes were pretty in demand. After my first two semesters I usually had a waiting list to get into my classes. My advice, don't even look at the rating number. Pay attention to the actual comments. If students took time to actually write you a message, then you can take the time to read that. Don't get too sensitive either. As long as you're doing the best you can during class time and there for office hours, you're doing great. The fact that it bothered you means that you care - so you're probably doing fine.
     
  9. HMM

    HMM Cohort

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    Jul 21, 2011

    For the most part, those evaluations mean nothing to me. They are usually just a rating of how popular you are with your students.

    If you want better feedback you should ask a professor or more experienced TAs to sit in a few of your classes.
     
  10. Geologygirl

    Geologygirl Comrade

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    Aug 4, 2011

    I wanted to update this and thank everyone who posted.

    I got rehired to teach two geology lab sections this Fall. I plan to take all of your suggestions and hope to become even better at teaching this Fall. Thanks everyone!
     
  11. dabedwe

    dabedwe Rookie

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    Nov 15, 2011

    I would not worry about it too much. It appears you are really trying and care about the education that the students receive. 3.3 is not bad. I was a TA for 3 class for 6 sessions. One class I had students that did horrible work and I felt the same way that you did. Students should be graded on their work and not their attendance. If they are getting bad grades they need to come to your office hours or study more. That is not your fault. The work load seems easy. If students are doing bad in the class maybe you could add extra credit quizzes, small papers that can be completed, or put more quizzes in the syllabus and drop the 1 or 2 that they get the worst grades on.
     
  12. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    Nov 21, 2011

    I think it's great that you're trying to improve your instruction! But as many of the others say here, and speaking from the experience of a recent college grad, I can say that the evaluations are truly a popularity contest, and if the student ever does take the time to meaningfully fill one out, it's usually because they were unhappy with something, and it's usually something that was their problem and not yours.

    I had a rough time with only one or two TAs. Mostly it was because of them grading on attendance (which I had felt and many others had felt was below us, since it wasn't HS anymore; though now I know that perfect attendance is almost required if you want to get an A in ANY class regardless if attendance is graded or not), and this nebulous criteria called "Scholarly Conduct", which was another term for being present and on time, and participating in every discussion.

    If you're not fully prepared for college, you begin to scrape for points anywhere you can, and it becomes more of a quest to whine your way to the next grade level rather than an actual learning experience.

    There is not much you can do, aside from grade easier to become more popular. However, I would like to say, if I had a professor or a TA that actually taught me the techniques and strategies to become successful in college (Cal Newport's books would have been indispensable to me if I'd known about them before I graduated), rather than JUST the content, I would have been VERY appreciative and probably would have come out with a better GPA.
     
  13. Bridgebuilder

    Bridgebuilder Rookie

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    Dec 20, 2013

    I started out as a TA, in my last year of undergrad, and then did the same in grad school. I also had the experience of running into similar comments when I did my first college teaching gig. It's now decades later, and I've trained hundreds of college instructors. Eventually, I figured it out, sort of.

    I think it would be the rare person who jumps into a college classroom and does superbly. You're asking the right questions and seem to be on a good track to BE the best you can be, but give yourself some leeway here, keep learning and improving and focus on what YOU can do to get better. Use the comments as stimulus and motivation, but try (it's hard), not to get overly stressed.

    I was lucky. I had a grad. supervisor who kept shoring up my beaten up ego when I started teaching, so it's helpful to have that sounding board with someone you can trust. He was like a second father to me so it helped me not give up on teaching.
     

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