Teaching the TA to Teach

Moderator: Richard Felder, I think, is in the audience and I am going to quote him again because it is appropriate at this point. Richard said, “College teaching may be the only skilled profession for which no preparation or training is provided or required. You get a Ph.D., you join a faculty, and they show you your office and tell you by the way you are teaching 205 next semester, see you later. The result is the consistent use of teaching techniques that have repeatedly been shown to be ineffective at promoting learning.” Richard, did I quote you correctly? I think that’s on your website.

[laughter]

Moderator: Richard’s here. Any comments on what Richard says? You mentioned TAs not being prepared, that is very appropriate.

Juan Rivera: From personal experience when I was a teaching assistant, that mirrors the exact process I went through. I was asked to be a teaching assistant, I was handed a book and told, “Here, go for it, figure it out.”

Elaine Seymour: And it is an opportunity lost, missed, because if you’re going to find enthusiasm for something new, and setting right things that did not work in one’s own education you will find it amongst graduate students who understand the problem and have the energy and the open-eyed possibilities of doing something about it. So it is an opportunity.

Moderator: Norman, you haven’t spoken.

Norman Fortenberry: More fundamentally we have to not only deal with an inattention to instruction and TAs, we have to deal with active hostility. There are students I could quote who sneak around to take a teaching class because they are personally interested in teaching better but they are afraid that if their major professor finds out they will not be regarded as being serious about their real research and we have to change that.

Moderator: Sheri, I will give you the final comment here.

Sheri Sheppard: Two hopeful activities along these lines, one is CIRTL which is an NSF sponsored center that is at the University of Wisconsin and with other institutions that is looking at science, technology, engineering, and math education of Ph.D. students. So how do you integrate in a not covert, but overt manner of students learning how to teach?

The second is just making it more public generally, and NSF again has made for career awards a statement of teaching as really a part of that dossier.

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