Learning from Teaching Evaluations 1
Due to an application for another teaching fellow position, I had occasion to go back and look at my evaluations from TF-ing in the fall. The course was Brian Walsh’s “Shakespeare: Histories and Tragedies.” The evaluations were positive in a qualified way and contained many well-deserved suggestions for improvement. No lie, it’s tough to read anonymous, honest comments about the weaknesses of your own teaching style. I’m glad that this was my first course as a TF and I now have feedback for improving those aspects and growing stronger in my areas of strength. Here are some action points based on those comments.
Don’t undermine your own authority. My department assigns TF positions somewhat arbitrarily and I remarked in passing during section that I had less expertise in Shakespeare/theater than in American Lit (my specialty). Bad idea!
Always deliver a takeaway. While conversation by and among students is the goal of section, they still need to leave feeling as if they learned something. I always prepared topics but needed to prioritize going over at least one of those topics, rather than letting the discussion flow freely but with less structure.
Prevent discussion monopolies. Two students commented on imbalances in who did the talking during section. Over the semester, I used cold calling more often, but good balance flows out of having clear goals (see previous point) so that students of varying interest and background knowledge feel equally comfortable contributing.
Always return materials when you say you will. No excuse for this. Even a couple of days matters.
Don’t give differential effort. It’s perhaps human nature to be more alert when being observed, but I am striving to be the kind of teacher who gives the same (high!) level of effort in all situations.
On the positive side:
Stephen was a great TA!
[Stephen] made section fun and useful and sections at Yale are never fun or useful.
Stephen was a highly accessible and approachable section leader, making reviewing those essays an easy task.
Stephen was especially interested in a historical understanding of Shakespeare, and I really appreciated that he brought in excerpts from outside sources to help us better understand the plays. He was very helpful in meetings, and is generally such a chill guy–the best combination you could ask for in a TA.
Stephen was an effective TA–warm and thoughtful. He did a great job bringing interesting and often unexpected outside materials into section.
Oh, and I should note that my professor’s main constructively-critical tip was to watch out for mumbling! Got it. Loud and clear. Can’t wait to improve all these areas the next time I TF.
Currently, I’m co-teaching a seminar entitled “The Grid: Data, History, Visualization” and it’s going amazingly well. I feel an ownership in the content and thus am fully engaged. But being a good teacher means a commitment to effort and excellence in all situations.