Teaching as a Process
Teaching is fundamentally a process, including planning, implementation, evaluation and revision. Planning and teaching a class are familiar ideas to most instructors. More overlooked are the steps of evaluation and revision. Without classroom assessments or some other means of receiving feedback on a regular basis, it is surprisingly easy to misunderstand whether a particular teaching method or strategy has been effective. A teacher can create an environment of mutual trust and respect by relying on students for feedback -- students can be a valuable resource for verifying whether the class pedagogy is (or isn't) working. Self-examination with feedback from your students and the instructor are key to improving your teaching.
There are many different levels of setting goals for teaching, from the scale of an entire semester (syllabus) to a single class (lesson plan). You have the overall task of helping your students learn how to think critically and to understand the basic concepts and tools of your discipline. You should also have more specific day-to-day goals, such as examining the social context of Victorian women writers or demonstrating how to integrate partial differential equations. As a graduate TA you probably will not be responsible for designing an entire course, but you should think about how your day-to-day teaching fits into the larger goals of the course.
Revising your pedagogy will help your students learn... and keep you interested. If you keep your focus on student learning, you will find a richer meaning to the typical lecture/discussion/test/grade process. Instead of an adversarial relationship, the teaching process encourages a relationship of cooperation and mutual discovery. Ernest Boyer helped redefine the notion of scholarship, in fact, by including the scholarship of teaching as a culminating activity of the research process of discovery, integration, and application of knowledge (Boyer 1990).
Regular assessment of your students and yourself is critical to your success as a teacher. To really understand whether you are teaching effectively and your students are learning effectively, it is crucial that you actively and regularly assess what your students have learned. If you are able to solicit meaningful feedback from your students and the professor on a regular basis (not just at the end of the semester), you can modify and improve your teaching strategies. Assessments do not need to be overly complex or involved. In fact, the more focused you are in the assessment, the more impact your changes will have.
The best plans are meaningless if you don't try them. Although most of the work in teaching comes in planning and preparation, many great ideas are never implemented because it was easier to just keep doing the same thing. Don't be afraid if you have and idea you want to try. If something hasn't been working right, why not change what you are doing and try something new? Unless you are willing to change and experiment, you will find it difficult to improve your teaching skills.
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