Teaching in Grad School

Less than Perfect Types of Students in College: Dealing with Pesky Students

There are many different types of students in college. As an instructor, you will likely have many wonderful, dedicated, prepared students who will show up on time for class and who will be ready and eager for the day’s lecture. However, you will also have difficult students. At this point in your graduate career, you are probably familiar with many different types of pesky students; without knowing it, you may have even been a pesky student in the past. Below are some common types of students in college, including the pesky ones, and some ways to manage them in classrooms.

The Monopolizer

Most teachers know this student well: the one who is always first to respond to questions, who always has something to contribute, and (to be quite frank) who will not shut up. One way to handle this student is to share your experience of that student with the student. For example, you could say something to the effect of, “I really appreciate your willingness to share in class, but I wonder if maybe other students would like some space to speak.”

The Know-It-All

The Know-It-All student is another well-known pesky student. If you don’t already have an idea of what this student is like, then think back on your experiences as a student or instructor. Have you ever been in class with someone who would always ask long complicated questions that weren’t even questions to begin with but that were asked in a way to try to sound smarter than the other students? That is the Know-It-All. One way to address these disruptive students is to have the students clarify if they are asking questions (e.g., they really do not know the answer) or if they are making points of clarification (e.g., they want to see if they truly understand the concept). By having the students distinguish between the two, they will hopefully gain some personal insight and not speak up so much in class.

The “Perfect” Student

This type of pesky student tends to be very well prepared for class and typically performs well on class assignments and tests. However, what makes these students so pesky is that they are often too invested in their educations. These students want to know why they received a 98 on a paper and not a perfect 100. For example, these students may schedule meetings after tests are returned to question every single thing that they got wrong. Do these students sound familiar? They should because many of these students end up pursuing graduate degrees. One way to handle these pesky students is to reassure them that one grade will not impact their overall performance in the class. Also, these students need firm boundaries, so unless you feel it is absolutely warranted, you should not modify grades because of a simple challenge. In the long run, this is what these students need.

Regardless of which of the types of students in college you are dealing with, you should approach the students in a way that is productive to the students’ personal and professional growth. Chances are no one has ever given pesky students feedback about how they present in class. However, you should never call students out in front of the entire class; this only makes pesky students feel bad for something about which they were probably unaware. If it becomes absolutely necessary to speak with pesky students about their behaviors, you should do so one on one. Also, you should remember that you are not alone in dealing with pesky students. The types of students in college vary little from school to school, and your stipend as a GTA only compensates you to deal with so much. If you are struggling with a particular student, you can reach out to your faculty mentor for guidance and support.

The Perks of Teaching in College and Being a GTA

Teaching in college is one of the many opportunities for professional development that most graduate programs offer. The level of responsibility for graduate teaching assistants can range from assisting faculty members (i.e., grading papers, copying tests, covering lectures while professors are out of town) to being the primary instructor responsible for the course, or even teaching an online course. Teaching in college is a great way to get some valuable teaching experience that will come in handy if you plan on pursuing a career in academia.

Becoming a graduate teaching assistant to distinguished professors in your field can grant you unique opportunities. You will be able to get to know your professors better and possibly to create professional relationships and mentorships that you could eventually use for a letter of recommendation for internships, postdoctoral fellowships, or even faculty positions. In addition to the potential for letters of recommendation, you will also gain powerful knowledge and insight about teaching at the graduate level when you work as a graduate teaching assistant for distinguished professors.

Teaching in college can be rewarding not only to your graduate school career but also to your professional development. Being a graduate teaching assistant in a variety of courses during your time as a graduate student will make your CV stand out when you apply for internships and postdoctoral fellowships. Additionally, graduate teaching positions are often connected to funds and stipends, which help offset some of the costs of living and education.

The new perspective, insight, and experience of teaching in college can all contribute greatly to your professional development. Teaching experience will give you more insight into your field and will give you more expertise that can make you more marketable after you graduate. The more experience you have, the more marketable you will be once you have your degree.


Maintaining Large Classes

Think back on your undergraduate career, do you think your professor or GTA had good classroom management skills? Do you remember sitting in the back of a large lecture hall talking with your friends, texting, and taking notes that consisted of nothing more than doodles? If this was you, you were probably thinking that no one even noticed you—you were just one person in a room of 300. The beautiful irony of all this is that now that you are in graduate school, you will probably be in the reverse role: standing in front of 300 students, most of whom are not paying any attention to you. Being a graduate teaching assistant (GTA) can be difficult in and of itself, but teaching in college for a huge class can feel overwhelming. Now think back to some of your favorite classes. What kept you focused and engaged? What classroom management techniques was the professor using to keep command of the class? Here are some helpful classroom management tips for managing large classes that you may want to incorporate into your own “bag of tricks” so you don’t lose control of the class.

Monitor Attendance

You are probably not going to remember every student’s name and face, so you should keep track of who is actually showing up to class on a regular basis. Knowing who is showing up can be very important if you have to consider making special arrangements for students or even (on the oh-so-rare occasion) bumping an 89.47 up to an A. You should take attendance at the beginning of class so that students who show up late do not get credit for that day.

Monitor Activity

As the instructor of record, your task during class is to cover the material and lecture. However, if you are instructing a large class, you will probably have a fellow graduate student or two to assist you. Have your fellows instructors attend class and walk around monitoring the room; you’d be surprised how much better students behave when they know they are being watched. Also, make sure that your fellow instructors watch the back door for people who will try to sneak out of class early.

Don’t Be Boring

Remember when you were sitting in the back of the classroom bored nearly to tears. What would have maintained your interest better? Be engaging, utilize media and other educational technologies, and involve students in discussions and small group activities. Lastly, never–for absolutely any reason–think that reading word for word from a publisher’s PowerPoint is a good lecture.

The bottom line, if not for the sake of the students, but for the sake of having the class under your control and not theirs, it is important for you to have strong classroom management skills, or it will turn into a very long semester!

Helpful Tips for First-Time Graduate Teaching Assistants

You got your bachelor’s degree. You got into graduate school. Now, you find yourself with your first teaching assignment. For some grad students, this is an exciting moment for which they have been waiting a long time. For others, however, being assigned to teach is terrible news, and dread the idea of having to give a lecture. Some graduate students chose to go to grad school to further their educations and have absolutely no desire to teach. Unfortunately, if you are assigned as a graduate teaching assistant, you can’t exactly walk up to the director of your program or department and say, “No thanks.” So what do you? The short answer is that you suck it up and teach. Below are a few helpful tips for graduate teaching assistants who are teaching for the first time.

Be confident.

If you are being asked to teach a course as a graduate student, it is likely that it is an intro-level course. You already have an undergraduate degree, so the material should be basic and familiar to you. When you walk into the classroom, you should remember that you are the expert in the room. Being confident in your knowledge should not only reduce your nervousness as a new instructor but should also increase your students’ confidence in you, and ease any classroom management issues that may arise.

Use your resources.

Prepping a new course can take a lot of time. As a graduate student, you will find that time is one of your most limited resources. You are probably not the first person who has ever taught the course that you have been assigned, so don’t waste your time reinventing the wheel. Ask your faculty members and peers for resources, such as previous syllabi, tests, and lectures. You can easily adapt these resources to fit your vision without undue strain on your schedule. If you are in a rare situation and are unable to find resources from your faculty or peers, contact the publisher of the book you are using. Many publishers have additional resources for instructors to accompany their books.


Teaching in the Virtual Classroom

How is teaching an online course different than teaching a regular course?

Education is changing in many schools and programs worldwide. In recent years, the number of courses and entire programs–both undergraduate and graduate–that are being offered online has dramatically increased. As a graduate student, you will likely be either assisting or teaching an online course at some point in your graduate career. There are some important differences between teaching traditional classrooms compared to teaching virtual classrooms, and below are a few things to consider when you teach online for the first time.

Virtual classrooms are NOT virtual instructors.

Just because there is no physical presence of a classroom does not mean that there should be no physical presence of an instructor. In fact, when teaching an online course, it may actually be more important for online instructors to reach out to students because students do not have the option of asking their questions “in class.” Additionally, online instructors should hold regular office hours so that students know of a set time when instructors can be reached.

Be flexible.

A lot of students who choose online programs typically do so because their personal demands do not allow them the flexibility to take traditional courses, so be mindful of the unique student body with whom you are working. Now, that is not to say you should reduce the academic rigor of the course. When teaching an online course you will need to adapt your style of teaching to fit the needs of your students. For example, you may need to take occasional evening phone calls to answer students’ questions.

Create a Community

Just as in traditional classroom learning, students benefit from working with their peers in online education. When teaching an online course it is important to create a class infrastructure that is conducive for students to connect to and support one another. Some examples of this might be a weekly study group, a discussion board, group work, etc.

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