Training for Teaching Assistants at Duke

Learning to teach is an important part of the education of our mathematics graduate students and being a teaching assistant is an important part of both their professional development and financial support. Mathematics graduate students typically begin their teaching responsibilities during their first year of graduate study when they serve as lab assistants and work in the help room. Beginning in their second year, they teach their own section of 20-35 students, typically a calculus class meeting 3 hours a week, with a weekly laboratory session supervised by two teaching assistants. The teacher training program for graduate students has been ongoing since fall, 1987. The program is coordinated by Jack Bookman, a full-time instructor in the mathematics department, in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies and the Supervisor of First-year Instruction.

During the week before classes begin in the fall, the graduate students who will be serving as lab assistants participate in a week-long workshop led by Lewis Blake, Supervisor of First-year Instruction. In this workshop the participants are introduced to Duke's laboratory calculus course. This workshop is designed to enable graduate students to begin their work as lab assistants.

During their first year of graduate study, all graduate students participate in a weekly teaching seminar led by Jack Bookman. There are two related purposes of the seminar: (1) to prepare the graduate students to teach introductory calculus courses here at Duke and (2) to introduce the graduate students to some of the educational issues that they will need to know about and act on if they are to become effective college mathematics faculty. The activities of the seminar include:

  1. A discussion of what constitutes good teaching and how undergraduates learn mathematics.
  2. Observations of lessons taught by experienced teachers.
  3. Discussion of observations.
  4. How to organize lessons: planning, time management, homework .
  5. Overview of content of our Calculus courses with emphasis on what students find difficult.
  6. Making up hour exams.
  7. Grading exams.
  8. Current issues in undergraduate mathematics education.
  9. Meeting of first-year graduate students with the graduate students teaching for the first time to discuss the problems of first year teachers.
  10. Office hours, how to start the semester, rules and regulations, services available to freshmen.
  11. Presentation of a 15-minute practice lesson.
  12. Two lectures given to real calculus classes. These presentations are observed by the department's coordinator of teacher training or a faculty member designated by him. There is a follow-up discussion. and when possible, the students who were taught by the graduate student complete a short evaluation consisting of three questions: What was best about the instruction?; What was worst?; What would be one suggestion you would make to the TA to improve the TA's teaching?

Most of our graduate students begin teaching their own classes (usually a section of Calculus I or II) during the fall of their second year. During the semester that a graduate student begins teaching his or her own classes, they are observed twice--once during the second week and once during the third week. These observations are followed up with a discussion. The observations are made by various regular rank, tenured faculty and by full time instructors. If the quality of teaching is satisfactory, no more observations are made, but if problems are perceived, another observation will be made to see if the suggestions are being implemented. At the end of that first semester of teaching and after the graduate student reads his or her students' Teacher-Course Evaluations, the graduate student will write a self-evaluation describing his or her perceived strengths and weaknesses and discussing ways to improve. The Teacher-Course Evaluations and the self-evaluations serve as the basis for a discussion between the new teacher and the coordinator of teacher training. If there are no major problems, this point marks the end of their training. If problems are evident, a program is designed to help that individual graduate student improve his or her teaching.

Last modified: 1 Aug 2007