This August I began working as a Teaching Affiliate for the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching, where my main duty was to lead a day-long orientation workshop for new TAs in the Economics and Mathematics departments. As part of the preparation, I spent a week of training with other Teaching Affiliates from across the University where we delved into topics such as TA roles and relationships, effective grading and office hours, leading discussions, and creating an inclusive classroom.
Among these topics, I think one of the most significant discussions we had was “what is good teaching?” While some new TAs might see their position as purely administrative (grading, holding office hours, etc.), I think it’s important to emphasize that every interaction with students, in person or otherwise, is a teaching moment. That means we must be conscientious about how we approach every situation to promote student learning.
When I brought this discussion to my group of graduate students at TA Orientation, we began by considering concrete experiences. Who had been their favorite teacher and why? What characteristics described this great teacher? What stood out about their approach to teaching? We used this discussion as a springboard to create a word cloud that displayed characteristics of good teaching. The word cloud above is a re-creation from this activity, and was produced using PollEverywhere software, which is a great tool for allowing student participation in classroom discussions and activities.
Next, I brought in some theory by introducing the INSPIRE model of teaching (Wood and Tanner, 2012) and connecting that to the characteristics we had highlighted before. The INSPIRE model was developed from observing effective tutoring practices, and it describes effective teachers as Intelligent, Nurturant, Socratic, Progressive, Indirect, Reflective, and Encouraging.
These teaching principles continued to be instructive throughout the rest of TA orientation in various contexts as we discussed day-to-day duties such as grading and holding office hours or review sessions, and how they could be applied in each situation to promote student learning.
In the end, being a TA is a stepping stone to creating a teaching philosophy and practice of your own. In addition to fostering communication and organizational skills, it’s an opportunity to watch a professor/mentor and see how their methods and approaches do or don’t work, and to assess how your own interactions with students are or are not effective. It’s the beginning of developing a thoughtful and reflective approach to the classroom, which is essential for good teaching.
For more about my teaching practice and philosophy, feel free to contact me.
Wood, W. B., & Tanner, K. D. (2012). “The Role of the Lecturer as Tutor: Doing What Effective Tutors Do in a Large Lecture Class.” CBE Life Sciences Education, 11(1), 3–9.