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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End-of-term debriefing on big-picture learning

by Julie Dodd

students taking exam in auditorium

At the end of the term, teachers (and students) can get caught up in rush of final assessments and grades. That’s important for officially completing the course, however, we can end the term thinking of the details of the course rather than the big-picture learning experience of our course.

Taking time in one of the last classes of the term for a reflection activity can help both us as teachers and our students have more of a sense of closure and accomplishment.

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Designing effective in-class activities for college classes

by Julie Dodd

In-class activities can be a great learning strategy for the college classroom, but the effectiveness of the activity is based on a number of decisions that you, as the instructor, need to make.

partner activity in classroom

Students work in pairs to practice a skill and get feedback from classmates.

I thought about what makes a classroom activity work well or not work as well as it could when I observed teaching assistants nominated for the Graduate Student Teacher Awards Committee.

In a previous blog post, I’ve written about tips for having successful in-class activities  — “10 strategies for active learning in college classrooms.”

Let me comment on a few of those strategies in terms of classes I’ve observed.

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Tutoring helps college students & their instructors

by Julie Dodd

study group at UF Teaching Center

Study groups at the University of Florida Teaching Center provide students with the opportunity to work on questions they have about course material. Photos from the UF Teaching Center

Most of us who teach undergraduate classes realize at some point during the term that some of our students are not likely to complete the course successfully.

From the student perspective, not only does a low grade impact the student’s GPA but potentially the student’s scholarship, outlook on college, and choice of major.

As instructors, we also know that we don’t have enough time to provide the additional one-on-one assistance needed by those struggling students – helping some master the fundamentals of the course content and helping others be more effective in their approach in studying for exams.

Many colleges and universities offer free tutoring services, recognizing both the students’ needs and the limited time instructors have to provide additional support for every student.

The Teaching Center is the tutoring resource at the University of Florida, providing a range of free tutoring services.

I talked with Dr. Winifred Cooke, Teaching Center Director, about the Teaching Center’s services to help students.

“It is surprising. Good students are the ones who come in for tutoring, not the weak ones,” Dr. Cooke said. “The students who have a B+ but would like to earn an A or students who have a C or B- and want a B or B+ are the ones who seek extra help – not the students who are in danger of not passing the course.”

That’s where instructors can help, Dr. Cooke said, by identifying those students who are having difficulty in the course and encouraging them to seek additional help. Instructors can encourage students to come to office hours but also can direct the students to utilize the resources available through the Teaching Center.

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Adjusting your teaching outlook for classes during Thanksgiving week

by Julie Dodd

Jeanine Capo Crucet NYT commentaryIf you’re a college faculty member, adjunct faculty or teaching assistant, I’d encourage you to read Jennine Capó Crucet’s New York Times commentary about the challenges that Thanksgiving presents for First Generation college students  – How First-Generation College Students Do Thanksgiving Break

Her commentary made me think about adjustments I’d made in my syllabus and teaching outlook during the week of Thanksgiving.

Some students will be in class because they don’t have other options. These students can’t afford to travel home for Thanksgiving and, in some cases, need to stay in town to work. They often are annoyed when their classes are canceled during Thanksgiving week when the university still is open and classes are being held.

Other students, as Crucet noted in her commentary, can only afford to travel home if they book flights for several days before Thanksgiving. So those students will miss class during Thanksgiving week.

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Eliminate (or at least reduce the number of) discipline problems by realizing issue behind the behavior and empathizing

by Julie Dodd

NYT image by Aidan Koch“How do you deal with discipline problems?”

That was a question I was asked when I led a session at the University of Florida’s orientation for new teaching assistants.

That’s not a question that is limited to new instructors. Those of us who are experienced teachers deal with discipline problems, too.

One of the keys to dealing with discipline problems is trying to prevent those problems in the first place.

That’s what drew me to David Kirp’s New York Times article “Don’t Suspend Students. Empathize.” The article deals with student disclipline at the K-12 level, but the heart of the issue is relevant in higher ed, too. Continue reading

Orientation for new teaching assistants at UF – tips for success

UF Orientation for New Teaching Assistants

Here’s the view from the back of Carlton Auditorium during a panel presentation about how to deal with challenging student situations.

by Julie Dodd

Julie Dodd speaking at UF Orientation for New Teaching Assistants

I enjoy helping new teaching assistants be prepared for a good start of their teaching at UF. Photo by Michael Hanna

There’s lots to consider when you’re a new teaching assistant.

That was the take-away for the more than 350 teaching assistants who attended the day-long orientation for new teaching assistants at the University of Florida.

That was a take-away for me, too, as a presenter — as I planned what to share with the new TAs in my talk and also as I listened to the questions the TAs asked during my session and the other orientation sessions I attended.

I talked about developing a checklist of what needs to be accomplished before school starts next week, from meeting with their teaching supervisor to reviewing their online persona/avatar to the classroom where they will be teaching and try out the technology.

I also explained what I’ve coined as the COPE Strategies that can help teachers develop a more student-oriented approach to their teaching.

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