Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Promoting effective instructor-TA interactions

Contributed by: Rachel Welch

This week, the Graduate Teaching Community was joined by Dr. Claudia Sánchez Gutiérrez from the Spanish and Portuguese Department who led a discussion on instructor-TA interactions. She shared her insight from the perspective of an assistant professor and her experiences with TAs during her time at UC Davis.

Claudia emphasized that if graduate students want to bring up issues about a professor’s teaching with that professor then they should come prepared with data. She said it is much more effective to bring comments from students or an evaluation of an activity rather than just ranting about how a teaching strategy isn’t working. The best option is to propose a solution to the problem you have seen, be it an additional element for the present quarter or a different strategy for the next quarter. One of the techniques used in Claudia’s department to improve undergraduates’ experience is to give out student evaluations each week and discuss them during the following class period. In this way, small adjustments can be made in the first few weeks that improve students’ comfort level and ability to learn in the classroom.

Another major point the group discussed was about the timing of these discussions. Instructor-TA interactions can become strained as professors and graduate students alike grow stressed near the end of the quarter, and discussions at this point are often unproductive. Ideally, the instructor and the TAs should sit down for a conversation when the quarter begins. The instructor should be prepared to set guidelines and expectations for what will be accomplished in the course, and the TA should be prepared to nail down hourly commitments and schedule conflicts early. This sets the stage for the next 10 weeks (which will fly by) and allows each party to begin the quarter knowing their voice has been heard.