More on TA’ing

Scu responds quickly to my previous post about learning teaching by doing. He is right and I wouldn’t suggest otherwise that there are practical steps that universities can and should take before putting someone in front of a class. I should write a longer post on this, but I have to head off for more training to be a court appointed special advocate for foster kids in a minute or two. (That wasn’t a weird joke by the way; it’s actually what I’m doing.) I came out of DePaul and at the time I was going they instituted just the type of program that Scu suggests, though when he says “coaching” I like to picture someone in sweatshirt blowing a whistle and saying, “I’m pulling you at this stage–I’m going to put in someone who can actually explain the allegory of the cave… Now give me ten pushups and shut your pie hole…”

The first year of teaching, we all would meet, go over our development of syllabi together and have weekly (I think) meetings to go over how our teaching was going. The best help, strangely, was less about pedagogy than about knowing that things happening in my classroom were universal. And I should say, to this day, this is how I know someone is likely a good teacher: they talk about what they’re doing with colleagues. One of our department’s best people and teachers is Mark Woods and we probably talk about teaching each time we meet. He has a lot of innovative ways to get points across, but it’s less about the content than simply hashing out the best ways to reach certain types of students. There were a lot of silly things I did my first couple of years of teaching that I wouldn’t do now (number one: putting students in groups—eck) and you have to find your voice as much as you do in writing. Maybe that means having the your kids on their knees staring at a whiteboard that you’re putting shadow puppets (bad shadow puppets) on using an old projector light in order to explain Plato’s cave. Or maybe it’s just picking up the book and going minutely through a couple of passages over the whole of course time in order to show them just how much they can find in one part of the text. But over time you find out what works for you (Mark likes group work—and that’s ok, teaching is phronetic, not formulaic) and just try not to make the jokes so corny that your significant other mocks you when you think you’re repeating a great laugh you had in class.