Teaching The TAs

December 1, 1998

Bill Sasser

While still taking classes themselves, 70 new graduate students at Tulane found themselves this fall in front of the classroom as teaching assistants. For many, this semester has been their first teaching experience.

"Individual departments are doing good jobs preparing graduate students to teach in their fields," says English associate professor and associate dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences Cynthia Lowenthal. "But often you just can't prepare someone enough in screwing up the emotional courage to walk in a classroom for a first time in front of a sea of faces waiting for you to say something good and smart."

This year, graduate students are getting additional help in meeting the challenge of the classroom with the Teaching Enrichment Program, a yearlong series of teaching workshops directed by Lowenthal. The monthly workshops offer teaching assistants a chance to sharpen a range of classroom skills.

Designed to augment departmental support of graduate students, the program is sponsored by the provost's office and includes a teaching resources manual. Topics for the nine workshops, which began in September and run through April, include planning effective lectures, class discussion and collaborative learning, academic integrity, evaluating student work, writing in the classroom, teaching resources and aids, and making a teaching portfolio.

"Faculty on this campus are devoted to teaching, and it was easy to call up and ask them to share their own successes and failures," says Lowenthal. "Our graduate students need to know that you don't become a success overnight."

Faculty and staff serving as instructors for the workshops include Lowenthal; Teresa Toulouse, associate professor of English; April Brayfield, assistant professor of sociology; Mary Ann Maguire, associate dean of Newcomb College; Peter Leviness, director of the Educational Resource Center; and Michael Plante, assistant professor of art.

The next workshop in the program, "Evaluating Student Work: Giving Grades and Feedback," will be led by Paul Tesluk, assistant professor of psychology, on Dec. 1. Tesluk remembers the challenge of heading his first class of undergraduate freshmen and sophomores as a young teaching assistant.

"Everything involved in putting a class together and running it is tough," says Tesluk. "Starting off on the right foot is really important, to the undergraduates as well as the teaching assistant," he says. "If a first experience turns out bad, it could turn someone off to teaching. These workshops give graduate students an opportunity to learn from people who have been there."

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