Hello. My Name is _______ and I’ll be your TA this term!

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Some of my students having fun (I hope) on a winter ecology field trip at Lemoine Point last year.

Many new grad students here at Queen’s are going through the motions of being a teaching assistant for the first time. It’s an exciting, overwhelming and even scary time, yet for many grad students the opportunity to teach is one of the most stimulating and rewarding parts of their graduate school careers.

I started my career as a teaching assistant in the fall of 2010 when I first started my MSc here at Queen’s. I was put into a 400 student, third year Biology course with over 100 students to whom I was assigned as a TA. I was terrified at first but as I got more comfortable, I really began to enjoy it.

Think back to your undergrad degrees for a moment. Do you remember when you had TA’s? Often you were scared to ask them things because they were a high and mighty grad student (oh my!). I remember I would spend 20 minutes drafting a 1 sentence email because I didn’t want to sound silly. Now the shoe was on the other foot. I was the one receiving the well thought out emails, being asked a million questions and assigning marks for the first time ever. The next term I had my own lab section of about 20 students who I taught for 3 hours each week. I was so nervous but in the end it was a wonderful experience that changed me forever. After that I knew teaching was something I always wanted to have in my life.

After my experiences as a TA I tried to delve deeper into what resources Queen’s had to offer grad students like myself who wanted to build themselves as teachers. I thought I would highlight some of those resources and opportunities for you all here.

Centre for Teaching and Learning

Through CTL, I took SGS 901 in the Winter term last year. It was an exceptional course geared towards helping graduate students become skilled and confident post-secondary educators. The activities and workshops in that course are both engaging and informative.

The teaching and learning certificate program is something I am planning on getting involved with this term. It is intended grad students who are interested in developing their skills in various areas of teaching and learning.

CTL is also offering a series called “Focus on Active Learning” this term. I am so disappointed that the timing conflicts with my schedule, so if anyone reading this attends and wants to let us know how it went, please do!

Expanding Horizons

Expanding horizons is a seminar/workshop series which focuses on academic and professional development for graduate students. I have attended many of these sessions, many of which are geared towards teaching and learning. One of my favourites (that’s coming up this term) is Assessment for Learning.

Teaching and learning group for grad students

I decided earlier this year to start up a group that will examine teaching and learning in higher education. The group is still in the planning stages and so far I have about 15-20 interested grad students from across campus. Some of the activities of the group will include reading literature and having discussions or debates, doing practice lectures or microteaching, observing lectures among other things. If you would like to get involved with this group or find out more, don’t hesitate to contact me at amanda.tracey@queensu.ca. The expected start date for this group is late October.

All of the above options are great to consider if you are finding yourself interested in teaching and learning. There are also lots of options to consider outside of the University too. For example, I am involved with a group called oCUBE or the Ontario Consortium of Undergraduate Biology Educators, and at the May meeting I became one of their Grad Student Stewards. This is a grass roots group that is interested in sharing best practices with other Biology educators in Ontario that are passionate about teaching and learning. There are so many groups like this out there and resources right under your nose here at Queen’s so look yonder new TA’s and find one that suits you!

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Posted in New Students, Student Perspective
2 comments on “Hello. My Name is _______ and I’ll be your TA this term!
  1. Atif Atif says:

    Great post Amanda. I think one of the best pieces of advice I got was to set up expectations with students. If they email me, I’ll respond within 48 hours. However, that does not apply the day before the midterm – if they have last minute questions they can email me, but I may not have a chance to respond (if the class has a discussion forum, I encourage them to use that at the last minute).

    The other really important detail to know is that teaching is really hard! Being able to discuss difficulties you’re having with peers (I can’t explain X clearly, or, they don’t understand Y), can be invaluable, as someone might have another way of explaining a concept that you can use.

  2. Some great advice Amanda and thanks for the plugs about the various workshops available to graduate students. Does anyone else have some good suggestions?

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