a Departmental TA Handbook and New
TA Orientation Session
Hagan-Ingram, TA, Department of Physics
Last fall for
the first time, incoming graduate TAs in the Physics Department had an
orientation session to prepare them for their leap into teaching physics
to undergraduates. This session and an accompanying handbook were created
and assembled by myself, three other TAs, and the physics department chair
Dan Larson, with much help and feedback from the Teaching Resource Center.
With their creation, we have planted the seed for a program that will
both aid TAs in nurturing their teaching skill and establish an environment
where effective teaching by TAs is seen as a priority in the department.
We began with
a series of informal meetings. Dan supplied us with pizza during these
meetings, providing an extra motivation to convene! We came up with a
list of broad categories we wanted to cover in the handbook: teaching
a discussion section, teaching a lab, office hours, student interaction,
faculty interaction, quiz construction, and problem-solving skills. We
four TAs divided these topics among ourselves according to our interests
and skills, and further developed each category. Each of our sections
was revised with feedback from the others after a subsequent meeting.
In all, we met three times for about two hours each meeting. The culmination
of these meetings was the first draft of the handbook.
improve the handbook, we decided to draw on the larger realm of teaching
experience in the department. Last spring, we invited all TAs to give
their input into the document at a brainstorming session. Attendance was
quite good; again, pizza provided an extra lure. (If you supply free food,
graduate students will come!) After the group added their constructive
comments and additional insights to the existing handbook, we further
revised it to reflect their many great suggestions. It was enlightening
to see the enthusiasm and interest in teaching of all my colleagues who
came to the brainstorming session.
served as a program guide for the teaching orientation session last fall.
We made an informal two-hour presentation during the departmental orientation
session, highlighting the main points in the handbook and sharing our
teaching experiences. With funds from a Teaching Resource Center TA Development
Grant, we printed the handbook in booklet form (entitled The Physics
TA's Guide to the Galaxy) and distributed it at the session to serve
as a teaching reference (it's available for consultation at the TRC).
session and handbook were, in my opinion, quite successful and will now
be a part of every incoming graduate student's departmental orientation.
I found them to be productive in two ways. First, they allowed us to give
new TAs tips and advice unique to teaching physics. In this way, they
serve as a nice supplement to the Teaching Resource Center's fall and
spring teaching workshops. In addition, they demonstrated to new TAs that
the department has established teaching as a priority. It will therefore
help to establish a team of TAs more interested and focussed on providing
the best undergraduate teaching possible.
If you think
your department can benefit from these things and you don't already have
a departmental TA orientation, think about implementing one! Anything,
from a half-hour presentation by someone who cares about teaching to an
all-day, more in-depth workshop geared towards the specifics of your field,
will help to improve the quality of teaching in your department. All it
takes is a few people interested in teaching, and about a dozen pizzas!