conduct involves many qualities that we assume you already practice: honesty,
fairness, respect for students, dependability, maturity, and so on. But
it also requires certain actions specific to the academic setting.
and good judgment must come into play in your relationship with your department,
colleagues, and supervisor or chairperson. Be circumspect in your public
comments about your department and colleagues. Students frequently ask
which TA is the best in the next course in the sequence or which faculty
member is the most interesting or sympathetic. Fight the urge to confide
in your students, but tell them the facts: for instance, the instructor's
area of specialization or amount of experience. Of course, honest and
positive comments are always welcome.
not always agree with departmental or course policies or the textbook
chosen in a multi-section course; when you have strong feelings, work
to change matters rather than complaining to your students. If, as a TA,
you believe you should have more input in decisions that affect you, work
through your departmental graduate student representatives to make improvements.
If, as a faculty member, you believe a departmental committee has set
an inappropriate requirement, talk with the chair of the committee rather
than complaining to the students or to colleagues.
In a similar
manner, information about your students' work and your evaluation of it
should be kept between you, the student, and, when appropriate, the student's
academic dean or advisor. Since students can now gain access to their
final grades electronically, do not post them publicly. And, although
it can be immensely helpful to discuss individual students' situations
with colleagues, keep the student's name in confidence and discuss only
the events, your reactions to them, or questions about them. This also
applies to information that may come to you regarding a student who is
experiencing personal difficulties. In all cases, maintain confidentiality
while steering students toward finding the help they need. The following
sections offer advice on negotiating this delicate balance.
the first degree of eminence in science, a professor with us must be
of sober and correct morals and habits, having the talent of communicating
and peaceable temper. The latter is all important for the harmony of
Jefferson, letter to
Stewart, April 26, 1824
Your Role as a Teacher
with confidentiality and discretion, professionalism means the ability
to juggle several roles: instructor, scholar/student, administrator, advisor,
colleague, supervisor, mentor, protégé. Combining roles
can be especially difficult for TAs, who add the responsibilities of instructor
or grader to their graduate student status, and for beginning assistant
professors, who teach graduate students shortly after having been one.
find yourself in either position (or if you have the benefit of looking
younger than you are), avoid inadvertently setting yourself up for difficulties
by dressing like, behaving like, or socializing with your students. Sometimes
such behavior stems from an effort to be non-hypocritical (if you are
a student, after all, why not act like one?) or from a certain insecurity
about this new role ("What, me teach? What do I know?"). In
any case, acting like your students or trying to be too familiar with
them may well undermine your authority for the entire semester. The closer
in age to your students you are or appear to be, the more you should avoid
students' habits and dress. Dressing even more professionally than older
faculty will go a long way toward making you feel professional, and students
will accept the University's inherent endorsement of you as an authority
of teacher-student relationships becomes even more troublesome when it
involves the possibilities of friendship or dating. Sometimes TAs or faculty
members wish to develop personal relationships that can create various
conflicts of interest. If an instructor were to develop a friendship or
romantic involvement with a student outside of class, not only would the
instructor's role as teacher and evaluator be jeopardized, but the other
students might feel that the instructor could no longer be impartial.
Depending on the specific circumstances, the student could assume sexual
harassment despite the instructor's best intentions. Thus such relationships
fall under the University's Conflict of Interest policy and are to be
avoided. (See Appendix II for policy web sites.) If you find yourself
desiring to know one of your students more personally, wait until the
semester ends and grades have been submitted.
you may find that you have potentially problematic ties with a student
in your class: for instance, someone from your home town or a student
who contested a grade in a former course. Most likely you are the best
person to judge whether a problem awaits you. If it does, and if the course
has multiple sections, arrange for the student to transfer. If impossible,
be sure your students know that you grade work blindly, without names,
as suggested in the section on evaluating students' work. You might also
ask a colleague to confirm your assessment of the work of that student
and of several others.
my students to know that biology is not about committing facts to memory-
it is an active, ever changing field. In short, I view my teaching as
an extension of my research and graduate training, rather than as a
task conflicting with the pursuit of my dissertation research.