Thursday, April 5, 2012

Teaching and the Job Market

Last week's History of Science brownbag was a teaching forum led by Alex Rudnick and Vicki Fama. This was one of a series of graduate-student-led brownbags, in which a general theme is set for open discussion, but no presentation or talk is given. It was definitely a success and the conversation actually went over time without anyone noticing.

We mainly discussed grading and leading sections; in fact, we didn't even make make it half way through the list of topics generated at the start. I mentioned a blog that some of us frequent, The Professor is In, which provides external advising to graduate students on or about to hit the job market. I also referenced this Chronicle article, which I promised to post. Dr. Karen Kelsky has some good, if tough, advice when it comes to teaching: 1) Be the sole instructor of at least one course by the time you graduate, b) minimize TA work, c) TAing is not a substitute for teaching your own course. This advice seems sound to me, but can be almost impossible to follow. The amount one TAs is often not a choice. Most grad students have to TA for at least a few semester during the course of their program as a means to earn tuition remission and support themselves, so the real question is how to manage time effectively while being the best teacher you can be?

Our conversation last week only scrapped the surface of this problem. People mentioned some techniques for reading/grading papers, and methods of involving students more fully in discussion, so that the burden of carrying a section does not fall solely on the TA's shoulders. I hope people will post some of their suggestions in the comments here!

Obviously, time management and balance is a perennial problem in academia that goes beyond TAing and teaching. The opportunity to talk openly and inclusively about these kinds of issues--with everyone from first year grad students to emeritus professors--is not only helpful, but special (for lack of a better word). Collegiality is one of the ways our department distinguishes itself and something I've come to deeply appreciate.

Both of the links I've shared here are also relevant to our April 13th brownbag on the job market: stay tuned...


  1. I would just add that I find that writing student's ideas on the board--putting yourself in the role of basically note-taker in a brainstorming session--can help students realize discussion is their responsibility. It's their ideas and interpretations of the class material that is getting put up on the board, not you telling them what to think. But at the same time, you have the ability to correct misunderstandings and emphasize points you do want them to get, by serving in this notetaker role. You can ask them to clarify, or say--yes that's an especially important point, and pass over less important points more quietly. This technique kind of makes the discussion "visible" too, so you all feel like you've accomplished something in the end. Can work for comparing texts, or finding the main idea in a complicated text, or for building timelines, etc.

  2. BTW, I really hope others will add to this! Somehow I had missed seeing this post go up!