Academic journal article Communication Studies

Central States Outstanding Teaching Award Winners: "Learn to Play the Game:" Recommendations for Being Successful as a Graduate Teaching Assistant

Academic journal article Communication Studies

Central States Outstanding Teaching Award Winners: "Learn to Play the Game:" Recommendations for Being Successful as a Graduate Teaching Assistant

Article excerpt

As you walk into the classroom on your first day, you need to take attendance, cover the course syllabus, explain the assignments, and complete an ice-breaker. All in that order. With this information, and two weeks of training, I was introduced to my first experience as a graduate teaching assistant (GTA). Although initially I was dissatisfied with my work in the classroom, I would later come to recognize this time as one of the most valuable and rewarding experiences of my life. Working towards a masters or doctoral degree is a stimulating but often difficult transition for undergraduate students. Assuming a graduate assistantship during this time can be daunting and has the potential to dramatically influence one's experience of graduate school and the life of the professor that comes after. As I look back on graduate school, specifically my experiences as a GTA, there are a number of valuable lessons I have learned, which have prepared me to become an accomplished teacher and scholar in the Communication Discipline.

New GTA's often find it difficult to make the transition into the college classroom. Assuming the role as a member of a University's Junior Faculty is fraught with anxiety and questions concerning procedures and expectations. Most GTA training programs (especially in the communication discipline) provide a valuable foundation for the graduate teaching experience. However, they can only provide a peripheral view of what it takes to be successful inside and outside the classroom. As I reflect on my development as a teacher and scholar after my six years as a GTA, I can point to specific examples which enhanced my ability as a graduate student and later as a professional in my first academic position. These include "learning to play the game"; observing model teachers; and developing a philosophy of teaching. In the following essay I will discuss each of these areas by providing suggestions that I believe will assist in enhancing one's effectiveness as a teacher. In addition, a number of the points I address may assist current faculty who facilitate the development of new teacher.

"Learn to Play the Game"

My first recommendation for a new GTA is to "learn to play the game". This is a phrase used by my department head during my masters program to describe the easiest path for success as a GTA. This simple phrase encompasses many of the factors that I will discuss throughout this essay. First, one must come to realize that graduate school is fraught with ambiguity. There are undefined rules and procedures that must first be learned, and then adhered to. As a GTA, one is a member of the faculty; however, at the same time a student. One is expected to develop a level of independence as a GTA while being dependent on senior faculty for the courses being taken. A dialectical tension develops which has potential to cause confusion concerning one's role in the department. It is unclear when one is assuming a role as a student, or as a fellow staff member. Successful GTA's are able to find the balance and eliminate the role ambiguity that exists. Thus, those who are most proficient at adapting to the differences between undergraduate and graduate life are more likely to succeed. I would argue that this has also assisted the transition into my position as a full time faculty member as well. Being a full time faculty is an entirely new game, with a new set of rules, requiring one to redefine his/her role and function.

The second component of "learning to play the game" revolves around an ability to adapt to the conditions of graduate work. For many undergraduates, the perception of the college teacher is inaccurate. From the outside looking in, college instructors teach 9 to 12 hours each week with summers off (including a winter and spring break). What they fail to consider is the amount of work that goes on behind the scene. The hours spent working on lectures and preparing for class, attending numerous departmental and university meetings and functions, hours in the library conducting research and advancing the knowledge of the discipline, and provide service to the community, discipline, and university. …

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