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By Karen Herland
It’s hard enough finding your classrooms during the first few weeks of school. What if you’re also expected to mediate between disgruntled students and their professors, or lead a sensitive discussion between total strangers?
Teaching assistants are often expected to straddle the roles of instructor and student. It is easy to get roles confused. The Centre for Teaching and Learning Services (CTLS) offered an orientation day for TAs just before classes started.
The daylong event was attended by 338 TAs, more than double the attendance of previous years. A big factor in the increase is that Engineering and Computer Science made certification at the event a precondition of signing a TA contract this year.
“It shows a growing commitment to developing teaching skills,” said Janette Barrington, CTLS teaching consultant.
According to ENCS Academic Affairs Manager Donna Hum, being able to demonstrate that all of their TAs underwent formal training supports the faculty’s professional status. The faculty worked with CTLS and Environmental Health and Safety to develop a lab safety workshop, offered at orientation and other points during the first weeks of the term.
Barrington said a preliminary review of feedback revealed that the panel discussion at the plenary session was extremely popular.
The TAs watched scenarios depicting situations they might encounter in their new roles and then heard Monica Mulrennan (Associate Dean, Graduate Studies), William Lynch (Associate Dean, Undergraduate Programs and Student Affairs, ENCS), Jamie Mayerovitch (Counselling and Development) and a trio of experienced TAs from different faculties explain how they might have handled the range of situations involving violent aggressive and over-confident students or insensitive professors.
That discussion was led by John Bentley, whose recent appointment as Program Coordinator/ Instructional Technology Developer makes him the newest member of the CTLS team. The scenarios students watched were produced at the University of Nebraska.
CTLS may develop their own presentations that are more relevant for students here. Future workshops might be divided by faculty or held over the academic year.