New Training for New Teachers
There’s good news for Homewood’s graduate student teaching assistants (TAs)—and the undergraduates they’ll be instructing.
In September, Johns Hopkins launched a new TA training initiative aimed at giving graduate students across the school the pedagogical tools they need to be more effective teachers in the classroom and lab.
“It’s fantastic,” says Andrew Russell, a member of the Graduate Representative Organization (GRO) who serves on the advisory board of the new program. “Graduate students are desperate for this sort of training.” While some departments—such as biology and mathematics—have traditionally provided extensive preparation for their TAs, Russell notes, other departments have offered little.
The initiative grew out of the 2002 Commission on Undergraduate Education study, which concluded, among other things, that better teaching would improve the undergraduate experience. A year later, a GRO survey of Hopkins’ peer institutions found that many of them—including Stanford, Duke, Columbia, Harvard, Brown, and New York University—had substantive pedagogical training programs in place for their graduate students. Many of these schools offer certificates of completion that have “a good deal of market value,” Russell says. “Most, if not all, graduate students are concerned about their prospects of getting a job. The competition is really tight for a lot of teaching jobs. Anything you can do to give yourself a leg up, you’ve got to do it.”
Allyson McCabe, hired in February to head the new TA Training Program, agrees. “The academic job market is trending toward a greater emphasis on teacher preparedness,” says McCabe, a pedagogical specialist with the Center for Educational Resources (CER), which runs the training program.
McCabe worked closely with Russell and other GRO representatives, as well as faculty members, administrators, and deans, to put together an extensive array of orientation workshops and seminars on September 7 for all new teaching assistants at Homewood. Some 375 took part.
The day included mandatory morning sessions on such topics as “Ethics” (led by Dean of Under-graduate Education and Vice Provost Paula Burger) and “Relating to Your Students” (led by the Counseling Center’s Vernon Savage.) In the late morning and afternoon, faculty members and veteran TAs led a wide variety of optional workshops and seminars that, among other things, provided an introduction to teaching and learning styles, dealt with academic dishonesty and plagiarism, and looked at implementing technology to increase teaching effectiveness.
McCabe has plans to build on the orientation kick-off with a wide range of activities throughout the coming pilot year that will be open to all TAs, not just new ones. There will be opportunities to learn about designing a course and a syllabus, she says, as well as professional development (guidance on crafting exemplary CVs and teaching statements), and mentoring opportunities with faculty who are stand-out teachers. McCabe will be aided in her work by an administrative assistant/doctoral student, who will conduct an independent pedagogical research project and present the results at year’s end.
Interim Dean Adam Falk is excited about what lies in store for TA training at Hopkins. “Helping our graduate students become accomplished and expert teachers is essential to our missions of both graduate and undergraduate education,” he says. “For our undergraduates, we must ensure that they receive nothing but the finest instruction in both the classroom and the laboratory. For our graduate students, we aim to train complete scholars, those who bring the highest standards both to their scholarship and to conveying their knowledge to the world.”
—Sue De PasQuale