Advice for new teachers for teaching success from UF’s orientation for teaching assistants

UF TA orientation - photo by Daniel Brotherton

Presenting in Carlton Auditorium is a challenge due to its size. My teaching strategies included moving out from behind the lectern, using easy-to-read slides, and getting the TAs involved. Photo by Daniel Brotherton

More than 400 new teaching assistants attended the University of Florida’s TA Orientation as they prepared to start their teaching assignments next week.

I was honored to be one of the presenters for the half-day program. My topic was Preparing for the First Week of Class, and I had 45 minutes to cover a lot of ground.

Here are some highlights of my advice to the TAs:

Get ready for the start of class

  • Meet with your course supervisor to determine your teaching duties, learn how you’ll be evaluated, obtain the course materials, and learn about the course and the students.
  • Find your classroom and try out the video projection unit and the chalkboard or whiteboard (to make sure you are writing large enough for it to be read by students sitting in the back of the class).
  • Plan your schedule with the courses you’ll take, the courses you’ll be teaching, your office hours, your meetings and deadlines…and remembering to include time for fitness activities, meals and sleep.
  • Review your online persona/avatar and make any needed adjustments to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, dating apps, etc.

Raising hands in UF TA Orientation - Photo by Daniel Brotherton

I asked students to raise their hands in answer to questions about their preparation for the semester. A hand-raising activity can give the instructor a quick profile of the class and promotes student engagement. Photo by Daniel Brotherton

Use syllabus as teaching resource

Few new teaching assistants are going to be developing a syllabus their first semester of teaching. In fact, UF requires course syllabi to be posted online several days before the start of the semester, so most of the syllabi for courses being offered this fall already are posted.

I told the TAs that the syllabus they’ll be using that was designed by the course supervisor will answer many of their questions about course policies, including can students make up missed assignments and is technology use allowed in class.

For the instructor, the syllabus lets you talk with students about policies and then refer them to those written guidelines, as needed, throughout the semester.

UF provides a policy for what the syllabus should include — http://syllabus.ufl.edu/media/syllabusufledu/syllabi_policy_20190730.pdf

Be effective in your first days of teaching

  • Be prepared for your classes – develop written lesson plans and rehearse your presentation.
  • Utilize your class time and start and end on time.
  • Be enthusiastic and promote the value of the course.
  • Be calm and patient. Realize you may need to answer some of the same questions multiple times.
  • Be professional in class, outside of class (which could include running into your students at a restaurant or grocery store) and online.

Get your students involved in class

In her “Planning for Learning” presentation, Dr. Elizabeth Bondy encouraged the TAs to create a “pedagogy of engagement,” getting students to be active participants in class. I talked with the TAs about how to operationalize the concept by using:

  • Think-Pair-Share
  • Raising hands in response to a question to the group
  • In-class writing assignment
  • Small group discussion
  • Class discussion

During my presentation, I included a Think-Pair-Share activity and raising-hands activity to illustrate how those can be used.

My ending comments were about an important concept – Realize you can improve as a teacher.

I encouraged the new TAs to identify strategies from the orientation to incorporate into their teaching and to remember they can improve as teachers from one class to the next and one semester to the next.

I was able to sit in on the other presentations during the orientation and see how all of us as presenters emphasized many of the same points – be caring, be enthusiastic, get students involved, and be prepared.

UF TA orientation - photo by Julie Dodd

By hearing Dr. Elizabeth Bondy’s presentation, I could tie several of her points into my presentation. Photo by Julie Dodd

The other teaching presentations were:

Planning for Learning – Dr. Elizabeth Bondy, Professor, School of Teaching & Learning

Advice from Panel of Experts

  • Dr. Andrew Wolpert — Associate Professor, Classics
  • Dr. E. Christine Davis – Senior Lecturer, Biology
  • Melanie K. Veige – Senior Lecturer, Chemistry
  • Dr. Falcon Restrepo-Ramos — former graduate student, Spanish & Portuguese
  • Morgan Yacoe — graduate student, Art and Art History
  • Chris Brewer — graduate student, Chemistry

In following blog posts, I’ll share the questions students asked during my session and the questions that the panel of experts discussed.

Thanks to Jennifer K. Smith, Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, and Dr. R. Paul Duncan, Senior Associate Dean of the Graduate School, for inviting me to be part of the orientation.

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