Summer sessions here at UCR provide a great opportunity for many graduate students to gain valuable teaching experience. During the academic year, we graduate students work as TAs, but in the summer we can try our hand as Instructors. Depending on your perspective, this may be an exciting idea or a scary one – or maybe even both! Here are some tips and tricks to help you start summer off on the right foot whether you are working as an instructor or a TA.
[Image Description: Blanche, from Golden Girls, spritzes herself with water and exhales deeply]
Caption: Just because the weather is hot, doesn’t mean you have to lose your cool
If you are the Instructor:
Tip 1: Don’t Re-Invent the Wheel
The first time you teach a course may feel daunting, but rely on what you already have at your disposal to reduce your preparation time:
- Plan to use a textbook that you already have in your home library from when you were a student or from a class where you were a TA. Getting desk copies from the publisher will take time, even if it is an eBook copy. Since summer classes are being delivered online, you may also consider using a collection of journal articles available through the library website or an open-source text instead.
- Refer to syllabi from classes you have TA’d for in the past, looking for the common elements that could work for your class. If in doubt, email other graduate students in your department who have taught over summer and ask to see their syllabi. This will give you an idea of what is expected of you and the class.
- Acting as a TA gives you the benefit of watching others lecture, so spend a few minutes reflecting on which professors were engaging and why. Keep those traits or activities in mind as you build content and assignments in your class.
- Many professional associations collate or publish teaching tips on their websites. In sociology, the American Sociological Association publishes TRAILS, which is a database of teaching resources available to members. You can search for syllabi, assignments, or activities in the system. Your discipline likely has something similar!
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Caption: You, reviewing available materials
Tip 2: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Summer sessions go by fast! Make sure to plan ahead so that you are not pulling all-nighters writing exams or crafting your PowerPoint slides for the next day.
- If you are teaching during Summer Session A or F try to finalize the big details of your course early. Consider when your assignments will be due and prepare an outline so that you can answer common student questions. Then stay at least one week ahead of what your students are doing. One way to do this is by starting your course prep during the week between spring quarter exams and the first day of summer session classes.
- If you are teaching during Summer Session B you have more time to prepare. Aim to have the major components of your class decided by mid-July and begin working on your class prep as soon as you can. Summer Session B can sneak up on you so consider setting calendar reminders to stay accountable!
[Image Description: Rory Gilmore, from Gilmore Girls, tilts her head and asks: “When’s the deadline?”]
Caption: Anticipate common student questions, like this one
Tip 3: Form a Team with your Assigned TA(s)
Some summer session classes get an assigned TA (or two). To find out if your course has a TA you can email your department’s office to ask or refer to the registrar’s classes website: classes.ucr.edu. Plan a virtual meeting with your TA(s) either before the course starts or on the first day of class. Clearly lay out for them the course assignments and materials and your expectations of them. You may be asked before the course starts to fill out a form indicating the work tasks you expect the TA to perform, it’s a good idea to bring a copy of that form to your meeting and go over it together. Depending on the type of class, it may also be important to go over the weekly activities you have planned for labs or discussions. Your TA can be a wealth of information and good ideas so make sure they know you are open to hearing their input.
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Caption: You and your TA, celebrating shared successes
If you are the Teaching Assistant:
Tip 1: Clarify Expectations
Summer sessions are run differently than the rest of the academic year. For example, if you are a first-time TA this summer, you do not need to complete TA Orientation before TAing for summer sessions. Similarly, TAs do not receive iEval student evaluations over the summer. This summer will also be different because classes will be held online. All of these factors mean that it is important to understand what is expected of you as a TA.
- Ask for a virtual meeting with the course instructor on or before the first day of class. Go over things like office hours, course policies, and grading for assignments and tests.
- Think ahead of time about your expectations for students during lab or discussion. Not everyone is familiar with using tools such as Zoom or iLearn, so be clear about what you want students to be doing. This is also something you could discuss with the instructor in your meeting. Finally, try to make sure you are on the same page as any other TAs for the course. If you haven’t met them yet, reach out via email to get the ball rolling!
[Image Description: Dr. Mina Okafor, from The Resident, raises her hand and asks: “What am I doing here?”]
Caption: Don’t be left wondering what you should be doing
Tip 2: Access Available Resources
TADP does not offer new content over the summer but our website has a number of resources to help you:
- A good place to start is our general resources page, which links to materials on a variety of topics
- We also posted recordings of many workshops from the past year to our website. A list of available recorded workshops and the link to watch them is here
- Finally, if you are new to TAing virtually and would like some tech-specific help we have a special webpage for that! It even includes a guide to Zoom created specifically for TAs
Good luck with your summer teaching endeavors!
[Image Description: Mel B enthusiastically tells a contestant on America’s Got Talent “I AM ROOTING. FOR. YOU!”]
Caption: You are going to do great!