One of the central aspects of my role as Director of University Affairs is to focus on ways that we can improve the academic experience for all students. When I’ve asked undergraduate students and Student Senators for ways that we can do this, the response that I most often get is to find ways to recognize and prioritize teaching quality at our institution – a difficult task in some cases where departments would rather focus on more lucrative research efforts.
When I researched this further, I found that the base of the problem rested in the fact that many graduate students are thrown into the classroom with little resources on how to teach well. All of the individuals that enter these positions are immensely qualified to do so; they have not only been admitted to the University of Washington, but succeeded in the often competitive process to gain funding as a Teaching Assistant. However, teaching is difficult, and in doing it for the first time you are often going to make mistakes or remain unaware of the most helpful techniques for the students in your classroom.
I took on this issue this last quarter by establishing the ASUW Working Group on TA Support. We are a group of nine students that are passionate about teaching at the UW, and our goal was to twofold: find a way to provide more resources for teachers that want them, and determine the systematic issues that are preventing those resources from being distributed.
After weeks of meeting with graduate students, relevant administrators, and collecting stories from dozens of students on the issue, I am proud to say that we have finished the first Student Best Practices Guide for Teaching at the University.
This will be distributed widely in the next few weeks with the intent that each TA at the UW will have an understanding first-hand, from students, of what are the best (and worst) techniques to engage a classroom. This is an ambitious goal, but the response we have received for this guide has been immensely positive and I am confident it will serve as a valuable resource for the University for many years to come.
Our next step is to write a briefing on the systematic issues at hand here at the UW. We believe that this report will give the analysis that is necessary for the administration to do something about increasing resources for TAs at this University.
We have already been successful in bringing teaching to the front of administrative attention; the recent International Student Fee proposal (which we have not taken a stance on but ASUW has supported) included an allocation for increased investment in International TAs as a result of our work. We are confident that, moving forward, both our analysis and the change in thinking we have promoted will lead to positive results for teaching at the UW.
If you have any questions about this initiative, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I look forward to discussing this important issue with you.