Presentation for teaching assistants focused on strategies for developing syllabus and having good start to school year

University of Florida orientation for teaching assistants

New teaching assistants listen to a panel of faculty members and administrators talk about “Classroom Challenges.” Photo by Julie Dodd

by Julie Dodd

More than 400 teach assistants attended a second day of orientation as they get ready to take on teaching duties when classes start at the University of Florida next week. The orientation is sponsored by the Graduate School and the Teaching Center.

I was one of the invited speakers. My topic was “A Positive Start to Your Teaching: Your Syllabus and the First Week of Classes.” [You can download a PDF handout of the slides I used for my presentation — dodd_2013_ta-orientation]

UF Teaching Assistant HandbookI divided my presentation into several parts:

* Advice about what they should be doing now to get ready for the start of class. That discussion included meeting with their supervisor, getting copies of course materials, and mapping out their own schedule for the semester (including office hours).

* A discussion of how a well-designed syllabus can assist teachers and students. Most of these new teaching assistants won’t be developing the syllabi they will be using this fall, but they need to know what the course policies and procedures are. Thinking more long-term, those who are interested in going into a career of teaching in higher education need to know how to create a syllabus.

* Research information about what students consider to be the qualities of successful teachers.

* Stories from my own UF teaching experience that illustrated the diversity of UF’s undergraduates and different teaching strategies for fostering a positive learning situation.

* Tips for the first class meetings, including utilizing class time and being patient.

* Opportunities for the TAs to talk in pairs about their questions about teaching and then ask me some of those questions. Dr. Paul Duncan, associate dean of Academic Affairs in UF’s Graduate School, moved through the auditorium, carrying the mic to the students asking questions so we all could hear. Some of the questions included:

  • What should our students call us?
  • How can we get students in large classes more involved and not just lecture?
  • What are strategies for learning students’ names?
  • How is teaching an online course different from teaching a face-to-face class?
  • What is Sakai?

I’m fortunate to be included as a speaker in the TA orientation. Preparing my presentation reminds me of what I should be doing for a good start to my own classes and what I can do to help my own teaching assistants have a positive teaching experience.

Making the presentation is a reminder of the importance of good teaching and a reminder of the many reasons I enjoy teaching. Being with an auditorium full of new teaching assistants provided me with positive energy as I get ready to teach. Thanks to Drs. Winifred Cooke, Paul Duncan and Karen Bradley for helping me have this motivating start for my school year.

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