Classes will be starting at the University of Florida next week. Faculty and graduate students spent this week getting ready.
On Monday, I was a speaker at the orientation for the more than 350 new teaching assistants at UF this year. I’ve enjoyed being a part of the orientation for new TAs for more than five years. Each time I make my presentation, I look out at the sea of faces and am amazed that we have that many new teaching assistants — adding to the returning teaching assistants.
During the two and half days of the workshops, the TAs hear from speakers on a wide range of topics, including legal aspects related to student privacy issues, tips for making a teaching presentation, and utilizing technology on campus for teaching.
The speaker right before me for typically is the president of the Graduate Student Council who talks about the impact of teaching assistants at UF, as more than 50 percent of undergraduate classes are taught by teaching assistants. Whew! That’s thousands of undergraduates who will be taught by TAs. We certainly want them prepared.
My presentation was on “Developing a Syllabus and Having a Good First Week.” Over the years I have made this presentation, I have made adjustments based on what I’ve learned from the evaluations the TAs complete and also due to changes in teaching and changes at UF.
For example, I learned from the evaluations that most TAs don’t develop their own syllabi so they didn’t see why they should learn about creating a syllabi. I now emphasize why they need to understand what is included in the syllabus and why, as they will be using that syllabus as the “contract” between them and the students. And if they do decide to go into teaching as a career, being able to develop a syllabus will be an important job skill.
Since I began making this presentation, we now can use a listserv to e-mail our students before classes even start, welcoming them to the semester.
The key point I make is about being as prepared as possible before the semester starts.
- Meet with their supervisor.
- Obtain copies of the course materials, including textbooks.
- Find out how the course fits into the overall curriculum.
- Find out about the students who will be in the course.
- Visit the classroom to determine the set up of desks and audio visual materials. Try out the video projection unit and other equipment.
Drs. Winnie Cooke (Teaching Center) and Ken Gerhhardt (Associate Dean of the Graduate School) do a good job of putting together a program each year to provide the new teaching assistants with a crash course on teaching issues and a good introduction to many services and faculty on campus.
Good luck to those TAs who, I trust, are busy this weekend getting ready for that first day of class.