Handbook Addresses Key
Departmental Issues in TA Training
Hodge, Graduate Instructor, Department of Mathematics
I began as a teaching assistant in the Department of Mathematics
in 1991, the prevailing wisdom was that one learned to teach
by teaching. While the personal consequences of the failure
to adapt to the classroom quickly are not quite as tragic as
drowning, the sink-or-swim mentality can have dire consequences
for both TAs and the undergraduate student body. The Department
of Mathematics, following a nationwide trend, has begun to focus
on improving teaching, with particular emphasis on the preparation
of TAs. As part of this effort, faculty in the Department of
Mathematics won a grant from the University Teaching Initiative.
In accordance with the terms of the grant, three TAs of the
Department of Mathematics (Jim Bowling, Julie Theoret, and myself)
produced a teaching handbook this past summer.
all graduate students in Mathematics teach for their entire
term of enrollment at U.Va. These TAs serve both as leaders
of discussion sections ("fourth hours") and as principal instructors,
often performing these functions for different courses at the
same time. To address the multiple roles they play, we included
writing a handbook for our own department, we were able to include
such specifics as a listing of mathematics courses with which
TAs may be involved, giving a brief description of the content,
number of credit hours, the TA's role, prerequisites, and the
types of students who commonly enroll. This is especially helpful
because TAs begin teaching in their first year, before they have
had time to make their own assessments of the differences between
their undergraduate experiences and the expectations of U.Va.
the roles of a fourth-hour instructor and of a course instructor,
with faculty as a TA for a course led by a faculty member,
with a faculty member who is principal instructor for a coordinated
course (i.e., a course directed by a faculty member who sets
policies and teaches a section), and directing other TAs or
undergraduates who may run fourth hours or grade homework
for a class taught by another TA.
department-specific information includes a description of the
duties of the secretarial staff ("who to see with what when")
and special faculty roles, such as that of the teaching advisor
and the department ombudsman. A section entitled "First Things
First" directs new TAs where to find their teaching schedules
and course materials, and how to get started in general.
an attempt to make the handbook fairly self-contained, we included
material regarding everyday teaching. This material is separated
into two sections, "Administrative" and "In the Classroom."
Since lecturing at the blackboard is still the predominant method
of instruction in mathematics classes, we provided a list of
hints for successful lecturing and discussed the techniques
of problem solving.
remaining sections are more general and may benefit seasoned
TAs or new faculty. These include the use and availability of
technology, outside agencies, resources, professionalism, and
a discussion entitled, "When You Don't Want to Teach," which
argues for the usefulness of developing teaching skills, along
with suggestions for those times when the last wish on a TA's
list is to set foot in the classroom.
time-consuming, preparing the handbook was a terrific experience,
a chance to act upon our grousing as TAs regarding all we wished
we had known when we began our graduate careers. Future
TAs will periodically revise and edit the handbook. We
hope our version serves as a great beginning and encourages
TAs to join in the dialogue regarding the improvement of teacher
preparation going on both in our department and in mathematics