I am looking for ideas.
- What are the things teachers have done for you that have really helped you learn?
- What are the things teachers have done that didn't do anything to help you learn?
- What are the things teachers have done that actually hindered your learning process?
- What are the things that you have done that seemed most effective?
- What are things that you have done that have seemed like wastes of time?
- What are some things you done that seem to confuse or misinform students?
The tl;dr crowd can stop here, if you want. But if you want more details about context, see below.
Note, I want ideas, but I am also asking for practical reasons, so keep the following scenarios in mind.
Say that you have only 20 hours a week to help about 45 students learn a quarter's worth of general chemistry concepts in about 11 weeks. (You have to keep it under that time limit because you have another 40 hour a week job, doing research, and are also taking 12 to 18 credits of coursework.) This is your first time being a TA for this class. You believe you have a decent mastery of the material, but you may not have thought about these things since high school.
Keep in mind many of the hours are dedicated already:
- You have to have 2 hours of discussion a week (one hour for each of two sections, where each section has 20-24 students). You don't get to decide when or where they are. The students are not required to attend. You get to decide the style and content of the discussions...and I suppose this is where your suggestions will be most helpful.
- You have to have 2 hours of office hours. You do get to decide when they are (assuming the room is open), but not where they are. Anyone can drop by to ask questions regarding chemistry (Well, they'll ask all sorts of questions you may be able to answer, but if others are waiting to see you, you need to keep it focused on chemistry)
- You have 6 hours of lab supervision (3 hours for each section). Lab is not usually a good time to teach concepts for many reasons:
- The students are required to attend, and you need to keep track of attendance. This is easy once you know the students, but the first couple of weeks, especially since students often come in late, I at least, needed to keep an attendance sheet.
- You are required to give an overview of the lab, which takes time, but the lab-work itself will usually take almost the whole three hours. If we don't give the presentation, invariably many students do the procedures incorrectly (even when we do, many still do weird things).
- Students have to pass a pre-laboratory quiz (mostly geared towards safety during lab) before beginning lab. If they fail, I have to give them another one, and if they keep failing, I need to send them home because they would be a danger to themselves or others.
- I have to make sure they are properly dressed and have the appropriate safety goggles without modification (some do try to modify them because they fog up). If there are problems regarding safety, again, I need to send them home.
- Students need to have read and understood the lab procedure and written a summary in their notebook before lab. We don't send people home if this is incomplete, but we're supposed to dock major points (like 70% of the grade for that lab). Preparation is key for both safety and doing good science.
- The lab is usually packed, with about 22 students, many doing things that could potentially harm themselves (despite warnings to not to do these things). You do not have time to answer in-depth question during lab, because your first priority is safety. You can answer simple conceptual questions, and simpler things like "where is the Sodium Thiosulfate?" But if you spend too much time to diagnose why an experiment is not getting expected results (something I really enjoy, BTW), someone else may be ready to spill acid on themselves or their lab partners.
- You also have to make sure things are clean at the end of the lab-time because another lab starts in that room in 10 minutes.
- Every week, you have an hour long meeting with all the TAs discussing the lab for next week, what the MSDS says about the chemicals in use that week, the grading policies for that lab, and what students have typically been confused about regarding the lab in the past.
- Your own attendance of the main instructors lecture is not required. If you go, that is another 3 hours a week. However, I am not sure how you can really dovetail your discussions with what is taught in lecture if you don't go. How will you know if the main instructor glazed over something important, or stressed something you had previously thought as trivial? How will you know if (s)he is running ahead or behind schedule? How will you know if students were still confused about something in lecture that you also covered in discussion?
So that gives you 9 hours a week for preparation of materials for discussion/labs, thinking about or planning what you will do, grading, and responding to student e-mails (or, if you attend lecture, 6 hours a week).
Proctoring, grading, and handling regrades of midterms (2 midterms) is about a 6 hour commitment per midterm, and the final is about a 10 hour commitment.
Similar to above, except you now have only 24 students, but only 6 weeks. It is a different quarter of general chemistry being taught so you cannot reuse/revise materials you've already made.
The committed hours per week are only slightly less, however.
You have a two hour discussion with just one section, and a 5 hour lab period for one section (the students do two labs per week). Again, 2 office hours for which you decide when, but not where. No weekly meeting with other TAs, but this means you have to look up the MSDS info, and coordinate fairness in grading yourself. The lecture, again, optional for TAs, is 6 hours a week.
So, this time, you have 11 hours a week of unassigned time dedicated for teaching duties (or 5 hours/week if you attend lectures).
Similar to scenario two, but for Organic Chemistry. Consider, in addition, that you are not a chemist by training, and may have just been assigned there because you passed a test and the university is really short on people.
To provide the context of why I am asking, I give part of a couple of my blog posts: