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.

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UF Orientation for Graduate Student Teachers, Aug. 13

College students working with partners in auditorium

In my session, I’ll include a Think-Pair-Share activity to demonstrate how active learning can be incorporated into class, even in large auditoriums. This is a photo from last year’s orientation. Photo by Ashleigh Kathryn

More than 400 new teaching assistants at the University of Florida will be attending the Orientation for Graduate Teaching Assistants on Aug. 13.

I’m honored to be one of the faculty on the program. The orientation always is an upbeat and exciting time as we help the teaching assistants begin their teaching at UF.

The half-day orientation includes presentations by veteran faculty and a panel discussion of outstanding teaching assistants and faculty who coordinate TAs.

The panel includes Falcon Restrepo-Ramos and Morgan Yacoe, who I had the opportunity to observe last year as a member of the Graduate Student Teacher Awards Committee.

UF TA Orientation promoHere’s the program:

8:30 am – 9:00 am       Check-in

9:00 am – 9:15 am       Welcome and Orientation Overview
Dr. R. Paul Duncan, Senior Associate Dean, Graduate School

9:15 am – 10:00 am     Planning for Learning
Dr. Elizabeth Bondy, Professor, School of Teaching & Learning

10:00 am – 10:15 am   Graduate Assistants United: Creating a Professional Working Environment at UF
GAU Representatives

10:15 am – 10:30 am   BREAK

10:30 am – 11:15 am   Preparing for the First Week of Class
Dr. Julie Dodd, Professor Emeritus, Journalism & Communications

11:15 am – 12:00 pm   Advice From Panel of Experts

  • Andrew Wolpert, Associate Professor, Classics, Director of IDS 1161: What is the Good Life and UF Quest 1                                 
  • E. Christine Davis, Senior Lecturer & Undergraduate Coordinator, Biology
  • Melanie K. Viege, Senior Lecturer, Director of General Chemistry
  • Falcon Restrepo-Ramos, Spanish & Portuguese Studies
  • Morgan Yacoe, Art and Art History
  • Ashley Erb, Chemistry
  • Chris Brewer, Chemistry

12:00 pm – 12:30 pm  Center for Teaching Excellence: Passport to Great Teaching: TA Edition
Jennifer K. Smith, Director
Alexandra Bitton-Bailey, Ph.D. Candidate, Academic Innovation Specialist

The program will be from 8:30 am to 12:30 in Carleton Auditorium.

Professional development for graduate teaching assistants

Falcon Restrepo-Ramos and EUS/SPN 4930 students

Falcon Restrepo-Ramos (front row in Gator blue shirt) with his students at the Student Symposium of Language policies in the multilingual European landscape (EUS/SPN 4930), Spring 2019.

by Falcon Restrepo-Ramos
Hispanic Linguistics, Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies
University of Florida

Years in grad school might seem like a tremendous endeavor for anyone pursuing a graduate degree. Such experience entails years of courses, research, coffee, and, in my case and many others, teaching.

Precisely, the figure of graduate teaching assistant (GTA) in one of the biggest state universities in the country (Go Gators!) not only carries a great deal of work but also memorable moments and many opportunities for innovative teaching and professional development.

Aside from the many different responsibilities of GTAs, which at times feels overwhelming, there are also grants, awards, programs and funding support that can make the University of Florida GTA experience professionally rewarding.

Here I would like to list two main lines of teaching and professional development that helped me maximize my GTA experience at UF. As you will see below, this list follows incremental steps towards a set of goals.

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Effective teaching strategies demonstrated by top graduate student teachers

by Julie Dodd

Falcon Restrepo-Ramos receives the Calvin A. VanderWerf Award from Dean of the Graduate School Henry Frierson and Dr. Constance Shehan, chair of the selection committee. The VanderWerf Award is given to the top of the teaching award winners. Morgan Yacoe also received the VanderWerf Award. Photo by Julie Dodd

Promoting student involvement.

Connecting learning to important issues.

Assigning meaningful projects.

Establishing a supportive learning climate.

These were some of the effective teaching strategies employed by the graduate students who were selected to receive the University of Florida’s Graduate Student Teacher Awards for 2019.

As a member of the faculty committee that observes the graduate students nominated for this award, I could feel the energy of those really engaging instructors when I visited their classes. I admired the graduate students’ course design and class planning to create such good learning experiences for their students.

Structuring class activities to get students involved

In the classes I observed that were taught by award-winning graduate students, their students were actively involved. Here are three examples I observed.

The winners of the University of Florida’s Graduate Student Teaching Awards for 2019 and members of the selection committee. Photo by Eric Zamora

In a physiology lab, the students worked in teams to review the results of the physiology lab they had conducted independently online.

Talking with classmates in a small group helped them answer some of their own questions about the lab and prepared them to share their experiences and the questions they still had with the class. In addition, after talking in small groups, the students were more confident in speaking in class.

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Changing your course syllabus as you are teaching the course

by Julie Dodd

How much can I change the syllabus while the course is underway?

That’s a question that I’ve been asked when I lead workshops for teaching assistants and new faculty.

uf-syllabi-websiteEspecially when you are teaching a course for the first time, it’s difficult to know if you are creating the right course design.

  • Do the students have the academic background that you thought they would?
  • Have you allocated enough time for major assignments and projects?
  • Did you include enough time in class for you to present the key concepts and to provide time for students to engage in active learning activities?

You get weeks (or maybe just a few class sessions) into the course and realize that you would like to change the syllabus.

I’m a big advocate of syllabus assessment and redesign. However, I’d strongly recommend that during the term you are teaching the course, you should give careful consideration before making any significant changes to the course, such as eliminating a major assignment or test or adding an additional unit or project.

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Teaching advice: Syllabus design and strategies for starting the school year

A view from the back of Carlton Auditorium during the orientation for UF’s new teaching assistants.

by Julie Dodd

Julie Dodd at UF TA orientation

In small classrooms or large auditoriums, I like to include ways for students to be active participants in class. Photo by Ashleigh Kathryn

“A Positive Start to Your Teaching: Your Syllabus and the First Week of Classes.”

That was my topic for the the Orientation for Graduate Teaching Assistants at the University of Florida.

More than 400 new TAs spent the day at the orientation that was designed to help them be better prepared to take on their new teaching duties when classes start next week.

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Attending new teacher orientation — maximizing your experience

by Julie Dodd

UF TA Handbook 2018-2019

That auditorium looks like C130 in UF’s Chemistry Lab Building — one of the 17 auditoriums I’ve taught in as a UF faculty member.

Thousands of teaching assistants across the country are getting ready to start a new academic year. [More than 136,000 teaching assistants were employed in the most recent count by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.]

Many of those teaching assistants are new and will be attending orientation sessions as part of their preparation.

For more than a dozen years, I’ve been a presenter at the University of Florida’s orientation for new teaching assistants, sponsored by the Graduate School and the Teacher Center. I really enjoy helping the more than 400 new TAs each year be better prepared for success in their teaching.

Here are five suggestions for how to maximize your experience as you attend a new teacher orientation. 

#1 – Consider the questions you have about teaching in general and your teaching assignment.

You’ll be more engaged in the sessions if you consider those sessions as a way of answering questions you have about teaching. So before going to the orientation, make a list of questions you have…and then add to your list as other questions occur to you as you participate in the orientation.

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