and the Undergraduate
Your Multiple Roles
for chemistry lab.
tend to give different identities implicitly to their teachers (Magnan,
1989). As the semester goes on, you need to respond consciously to each
of these roles in your own way.
- You're the
expert, in the classroom because of your knowledge of the subject,
your experience, and your wisdom. Students expect expertise but are
realistic; if you don't know the answer, just say so, and then find
the formal authority. In charge, you need to set standards, goals,
and deadlines. Learn early that it's much easier to loosen a strict
stance than to regain control after losing it. If you're a softie, act
tougher than you feel; but don't be draconian or treat college students
like high school students. Most of your authority comes through your
conduct: for example, if you don't extend deadlines, students quickly
learn not to expect exceptions.
a socializing agent. For your students, you represent the values,
assumptions, and intellectual styles of your discipline. Help them step
inside that world.
a facilitator. Listen to, question, and challenge your students
to facilitate their learning. Some students enter some courses without
average or even adequate preparation or skills, but students cannot
be categorized as either teachable or unteachable. Excellent teachers
teach whatever needs to be taught, whether it be organization, reasoning
skills, or responsibility.
a role model, even if you don't want to be. Be conscious of the
model you want to set, and think about the exemplary teachers who have
you're a person. Students expect teachers to be human. You can
capitalize on this expectation, inspiring trust, encouraging them to
express freely their ideas, opinions, and feelings, and making them
more willing to think.
whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity
of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it.
France, The Crime of
pt. II, ch. 4,
Hearn trans., 1881
Your Role as Advisor
the nature of the courses you teach, you frequently see students in
smaller groups than do faculty members. Thus you can help them mature
in ways that go beyond the subject matter:
can help students take responsibility for their choices: for instance,
whether to turn in an assignment on time or to attend class. Know
the rules that govern undergraduates' academic lives; consult The
Undergraduate Record (available in your department and on-line at
http://www.virginia.edu/~regist/ugradrec/) when students ask you to
make an exception to a College or School rule (see also Appendix IV).
Set clear guidelines about attendance, late assignments, and so on.
Some eighteen-year-olds will test your regulations just as they test
parental curfews; help them mature by being consistent and fair (see
"The First Day of Class").
You can save students time and help them feel like part of your department
when they turn to you for general information or advice, academic
advising, and consultation about problems. Be willing to listen and
know University resources and the courses relating to yours as corollaries
or prerequisites (see Appendix II and "Interacting with Students").
You can assist students' social development by encouraging and monitoring
their interaction with classmates (see "Teaching a Diverse Student
Body" and "Discussion Sections").
You can promote students' intellectual development by challenging
them always to think more clearly and critically, by requiring intelligent
work for a good grade, and by setting an example of rigorous intellectual
inquiry. Think of your students as citizens of this country and of
the world: What habits of mind and of inquiry would you like them
to have, and how can you help them develop them? (See "Teaching
the Whole Student" and " Promoting Students' Intellectual
You can demystify the student-instructor relationship and thereby
open a door to intellectual exchange. Not an invitation to
student-instructor socializing, intellectual openness is rather your
willingness to let students see how you explore and extend the boundaries
of your discipline to understanding and knowledge. As a graduate student
closely involved in studying and learning, you can show your students
the excitement of discovery.
Balancing Your Teacher/Student Roles
your graduate student experiences can contribute greatly to your TA
successes, the two roles can be ironically dichotomous: in one, you
give grades, advice, and information; in the other, you receive
them. And both roles place important demands on you. Yet your teaching
assistantship is vital professional training necessary to a graduate
academic degree. If scholarship is attaining and imparting knowledge,
then teaching is an essential part of scholarship.
although being a graduate TA puts numerous, varied demands on your time
and energy (see Appendix III), being professional means sparing your
students the consequences of those demands. Balance your life as best
you can; when the equilibrium slips, as it inevitably will, avoid blaming
one part of your life for lapses in another. Simply apologize for jobs
delayed or deadlines missed, remedy the situation as soon as you can
and analyze the source of the problem to avoid future conflicts. If
you feel consistently overloaded and see no solutions, discuss your
predicament with your faculty supervisor or advisor.
Communicating Your Discipline
the subject matter you are pursuing at the graduate level can present
another dichotomy: frequently the difference between the introductory
level you're teaching and the advanced level you're studying makes them
seem like different subjects: for instance, the basic biology of earthworm
anatomy compared to doctoral research on neurobiology. Of course, some
people wonder whether we need bridge this gap at all. For them, teaching
introductory courses is a trial by fire, a stepping stone to what they
consider bigger and better: teaching specialized courses.
that's not an accurate scenario for intellectual growth, as Sprague
and Nyquist explain in their view of intellectual development as a three-stage
spiral process (1989, pp. 14-5). They see beginning graduate students
at the first level; as novice-level thinkers, they know the basics of
the discipline but do not understand all its complexities or use its
conventions effectively. For example, a beginning graduate student might
know British literature but not much of the critical or literary theory
pertaining to it. Somewhat like students in introductory courses, they
are still, to some extent, "outsiders" to the discipline learning
the basics. So they can make effective teachers, with a good ability
to communicate the fundamentals of the discipline.
graduate school masterfully socializes these novice thinkers within
particular disciplines, making them into "insiders." To succeed,
they must refine the precision of their technical vocabulary and highlight
narrowly defined research problems. When focusing and refining, it's
easy to lose touch with basic principles. At this intermediate level,
"insiders" know and use the basics unconsciously, and it's
hard to communicate with "outsiders," that is, undergraduate
students. Thinkers who stay at this intermediate level of intellectual
growth find most teaching difficult because it means working with people
who don't know as much as they do.
third, advanced stage of intellectual development, however, thinkers
appreciate the similarities and differences of other specialties and
can explain their discipline to those outside, including elementary
and intermediate students. Only at this advanced level of intellectual
growth does one attain professional maturity. Truly advanced scholars,
those beyond the period of socialization, can translate and connect
knowledge in countless ways, working in interdisciplinary settings,
and communicating with scholars in disparate fields.
after moving beyond the pleasant, socialized, in-crowd level can the
critical thinker and scholar- you-explain what you're doing to your
friends, spouse, and students. Your teaching can help you move up to
that advanced level of intellectual growth. As graduate students and
TAs, you have a unique opportunity to view the teaching-learning process
from both sides. Turning a dichotomy into a challenge will offer you
useful insights into teaching and scholarship.
crucial part of teaching, I believe, is to allow students to see and
feel one's emotional ties to a subject. I believe that it is a useful
device to stop every now and then and "witness" for art and