FEd November 1994 Newsletter - Letters

November 1994



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Preparation of teaching assistants

Our department at Cornell has two aspects to its preparation of teaching assistants. The first is an intensive two and one-half day session before student orientation, which is run by the Director of Undergraduate studies and four to six "facilitators" (upper level graduate students with an interest in the education process). This workshop is coupled with classroom visitations and video-taping during their first semester as teachers. There is certainly a great deal of overlap between the topics covered in the University of Maine's meetings (ed's note: see FEd news, Summer 1994, p. 6) and our intensive workshop, and I commend that department on integrating the introduction to teaching skills and teaching philosophy with an introduction to their colleagues and peers.

One aspect which was not mentioned in the article which we emphasize is practice at the blackboard, referred to as "microteaching." Each new teaching assistant has two turns at the blackboard, each lasting 15-20 minutes; they have had the evening before to prepare. In the first microteaching session they present a problem and its solution to the "class" which consists of fellow incoming TAs and a facilitator. In the second, the TA is to respond to questions from the class about a homework assignment of several typical problems. In both cases, there is time for feedback immediately after the TA has been at the blackboard.

Without question, the incoming TAs find these microteaching sessions the most useful aspect of the workshop. I suggest that all efforts trying to bring incoming graduate students into the world of teaching incorporate them into their program.

Richard S. Galik
Professor of Physics
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-2501