Through Teaching at the University of Virginia: A Handbook for Faculty and Teaching Assistants, accomplished U.Va. professors and TAs share with you, both faculty members and graduate student teaching assistants, some of what they've learned from others and from their own fruitfuland less than fruitfulexperiences. We have intermingled philosophy and hands-on advice and have kept our suggestions fairly general, remembering that they will be read by an audience as diverse as engineers, artists, physicists, historians, and psychologists, all with different needs, personalities, student populations, and goals. You should find useful ideas, whether you have taught for years or never before. Although the primary focus is on undergraduate teaching, many Handbook recommendations apply to teaching graduate students as well. Please note that telephone numbers and web site addresses were accurate at the time of publication but may have changed since then.
The many instructors' experiences and many researchers' written discourse that have contributed to the preparation of the Handbook (some of which appear in our "Further Reading and Videotapes" appendix) confirm that teaching is a skill you can learn and improve, just as you have learned to read analytically, to write, or to speak in public. Certainly, no handbook can substitute for classroom teaching experience. But first-time instructors with a handbook can draw on multifaceted experiences of other teachers; without a handbook, they have their experiences as students and, with luck, a friend, colleague, or supervisor to consult. Even experienced instructors with many successes behind them may benefit from a fresh idea, a new technique, another's perspective.
Although scholarship, research, and teaching are all vital aspects of acquiring and sharing knowledge, graduate study does not always prepare the professional academic equally for all three. Here's how one Harvard professor put it:
In the hope of subduing butterflies, drying palms, and inspiring more students, we offer a few pointers and encourage you to try them, keep the ones that work for you, and delight in your own teaching style as you cultivate it.
For a few academics, the call to publish or perish has generated wonder about whether it's really necessary to teach well at all. Why agonize over lecture notes or reread the poem to be discussed on Wednesday? The answer must come from our students, future citizens of the United States and the world. When you read students' reactions to their courses and their Cavalier Daily editorials or when you listen to them talk in Pav XI, you learn that teaching affects nearly their entire perception of the course, that a fine teacher can interest them in a subject they never cared about before, that they have changed the course of their lives because a teacher inspired them. Teaching carries with it a serious responsibility and, equally importantly, a great privilege.
Moreover, as scholars, you are inherently committed to mastering your discipline and to extending knowledge about it. Your personal interest in what you study can excite students to want to learn as much about the subject as they can. By inspiring them to accept the challenges you and your topics pose, you can awaken their curiosity about and respect for scholarship in general.
As teachers, you most obviously and easily impart information. But more than simply informing students, you must develop their cognitive abilities, including their power to solve problems, think logically and creatively, analyze, and question. With these skills, your students can grapple with the wide range of personal and moral issues they should encounter in collegecentral questions of philosophy, politics, science, art, religionand begin to determine their own convictions. Beyond college, people who think clearly work better and can learn independently throughout their lives.
Along with imparting knowledge and developing thinking skills, you motivate students to want to learn what you teach. What many would call the ideal student, the one who naturally seeks knowledge and examines it and who would do so despite your efforts, is rare. Most college students, whether bright and energetic or discouraged and lethargic, need some motivation from you.
As scholars, you have exciting perspectives to share, so why offer only digested solutions to problems already solved? By sharing the genesis of your ideas, including some of your wrong steps, you promote creativity, insights, and judgment. When teaching and research invigorate each other, each becomes more valuable: what you teach should lead you to further investigation, students' queries should provoke your inquiries, and what you discover through research should enhance students' learning. Chris Christensen, Professor Emeritus at the Harvard Business School, says that there is "magnificence in all teaching":
We write to both experienced and inexperienced faculty members and teaching assistants teaching undergraduates. At the University of Virginia, "TAs" are graduate students teaching in many capacities: as assistants to a professor, as independent instructors in a multi-section or single-section course or lab, as tutors or consultants for problem-solving sessions, and as graders. The "Specific TA Concerns" section highlights the TA's role; we suggest that both TAs and faculty working with TAs read it because TAs' success depends on the care and effort expended not only by TAs but also by the supervising professor.
Recognizing that our audience comes from every discipline, we have emphasized universals and defer to the recommendations of your departmental handbooks and supervisors where they conflict with ours. We have also deliberately kept our remarks brief, opting to give you basic concepts and recommendations; for more details, consult works listed in the "Further Reading" appendix. This handbook will be most helpful if you read individual sections as you need them; to help you navigate through, we offer frequent references to related sections. To help you find the most immediately relevant sections, we have provided a detailed table of contents. References to specific U.Va. offices are explained in Appendix II.
We have taken your comments and suggestions into account as we revised this handbook, and we continue to appreciate your input for future editions. Please feel free to share your insights with us (email@example.com). Most importantly, remember that we offer our ideas as suggestions, not as requirements, and as a beginning. We hope you go beyond this handbook to discuss your classes with your students and colleagues, to observe other instructors teaching, to experiment with new techniques, and to continue to develop your personal teaching style.