Issues and Ethics
Honor Council Georgetown University requires all incoming undergraduate students to sign a card with the following honor pledge: "I commit myself to be honest in any academic endeavor and to respect and uphold the Georgetown University Honor System." As a teacher, you are responsible to help uphold and enforce this pledge. Georgetown has created an Honor Council to reinforce this pledge and assist teachers when a violation happens. The Honor Council's website, offers several helpful answers to questions such as: How can I help students avoid cheating? Am I obligated to report students who I know (or have seen) cheating? What if I am not sure cheating took place? How do I accuse a student of cheating? In addition, their site has contact information where you can talk to someone if the need arises. A perhaps not-so-surprising fact is that freshmen students are more than twice as likely to commit violations of the Honor Code (according to cumulative 1996-2000 statistics). Many of these cases might have been prevented if the students better understood what a violation is in the first place. To that end, the Honor Council has come up with some tips for teachers:
- Be a good role model. Cite sources in your lectures. Talk to students about how citation shows respect for other scholars.
- Assign narrow and specific research topics.
- Require that outline be submitted three to four weeks prior to the deadline and that drafts be submitted with the final paper.
- Require detailed citations, including page numbers.
- Clearly explain your expectations. Encourage students to come up to you if they are confused about citation practices.
What makes a classroom safe? Since you are in a unique position to help set the classroom atmosphere, make sure you are taking care of yourself first. Who is supporting you (beyond financially) as you navigate the sometimes stressful journey of finishing graduate school and becoming a faculty member? For pedagogical support, CNDLS can help, as well as your mentoring professor and other faculty on campus. For emotional support, contact the Counseling Center, or talk with other TAs. It helps to be able to commiserate sometimes! Also, try out a membership at Yates Gym, which offers classes in yoga, aerobics, and kickboxing, and also has a sauna and pool.
Once you have found your own support structures, how can you make the classroom more safe and supportive for you students? If you teach in the sciences, a safe classroom means taking a course in lab safety and following set procedures when teaching experiments. A second implication, however, is creating a more humanistic classroom where learning is encouraged. Actions that seem inconsequential, such as how you handle a wrong answer in class, can have a considerable impact on your students. Remind students to come to your office hours and also to take advantage of writing and tutoring services that are available. These are a couple of ways to show that you prioritize learning, and care about their learning in particular. Also, don't forget to put encouraging comments on papers and exams as well as instructive ones. Be as supportive as possible, while still being professional. You have more responsibility toward students than just being their friend -- you must help them learn the knowledge and life skills that they will need in their college career and beyond.
When problems arise in the classroom
The main thing to remember when you find yourself in an awkward situation, is that you are not the first to experience one, and won't be the last. You are not alone! The problem might be out of your hands, like the temperature in the class or a technical difficulty. The best thing to do in these situations is to acknowledge it and ask your students to work around the problem with you.
Sometimes you might think one or more students are causing the problem. When you're thinking about how to handle such a situation, ask around your department to see if others have encountered something similar and how they dealt with it. If possible, seek advice from a senior faculty member or a well-respected GTA in your department. Another good practice is to find a time outside of class (when you're calm and collected) to talk to the student(s) whom you perceive as causing the problem situation.
Often students are not aware that they are being disruptive. If they are, there might be other factors contributing to their behavior that has nothing to do with you or your class. Keep the meeting focused on student learning. Remind them that their behavior is preventing other students from learning. In addition, consider the student's own education. Maybe the class is moving too slow for him or her, in which case you might ask the student to assist you in facilitating discussions or small groups. The class could be moving too fast for the student, in which case you can recommend a tutoring service.
If you are confronted by a student about a grade, ask yourself first, "Have I been consistent? Did I clearly state what was expected? Was the assignment/test/quiz fair? Are there other TAs for this class who grade different from me?" You might try to ask a senior GTA or supervisor to help you answer some of these questions. If you can say yes to these questions, then try to listen to what the student has to say, and see if you can't offer some constructive advice. If you need to, refer the student to your professor.
There is no one right way to handle conflict that arises in class. If a discussion gets out-of-hand or if someone confronts you directly, consider asking the class to write a short response to the conflict, due the next class period. Then move on to the next topic. Or, ask the students to role play and have them switch to the opposite side of what they were arguing. Trying on someone else's shoes is often an eye-opening experience! A good rule of thumb is to let everyone have a cooling-off period before coming back to the issue. Remember, it's best to set fair and respectful rules for discussions before things get out-of-hand.
Georgetown undergraduates are a diverse group from many different backgrounds. They tend to be motivated, intelligent, hard workers. Some of them may have substantial knowledge of the subject you are teaching. Along with what they have learned elsewhere, they may also have misconceptions. With experience, you will learn to appreciate their prior knowledge while changing their misunderstandings. Be careful not to make assumptions about your students. As a teacher, try to give everyone an opportunity to learn. More statistics on undergrads can be found on the Georgetown Web.
Sites for Managing Stress
Honolulu Community College has posted a way for you to test your stress level, as well as some ways to reenergize your class through Help Yourself Help Others.
The Center for Teaching and Learning at Indiana State University has organized several "teaching tips" including some on how to handle stress here.
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