TA Training for Berzerkelers

The third cure for blogger’s block: find a structured writing prompt! Dr. Crazy’s reflections on what she wishes she’d learned about teaching before becoming a professor (part of Teaching Carnival #11) gave me, if not bona fide bloggish inspiration, at least a loose structure within which to complain muse about the training I’ve gotten as a new GSI. Or really, it’s George’s structure… but anyway, there are questions, they are about teacher training at the university level, and I am going to answer them. Or some of them. Or, okay, I’ll answer two, kinda.

What kind of preparation for teaching did you get? Was it adequate?

A certain amount of training is mandatory for all GSIs on this campus. It consists of:

  1. An online course about administrative procedures, plagiarism, disabled student accomodations, sexual harassment, and general cultural diversity folderol. I suspect that it adequately covers the University’s ass in the event of a harassment or discrimination lawsuit, but I can’t imagine that it actually reduces the amount of racist, sexist, etcist jerkiness in the grad student population. But, I did find it to be a useful overview of the relevant bureaucratic pathways, and I’m glad to have the associate reference material in my file cabinet.
  2. A one-day workshop with various bits:
    • Self-congratulatory fluff from campus bigwigs
    • A keynote speech about the pedagogical value of robot geckos and interdisciplinary group projects. Takehome lesson: something something undergraduate research and pedagogy synergy something, OMG ROBOT GECKOS!!1!
    • Discipline-specific discussion sections covering what to do during your first class, and some general tricks. This was actually useful.
    • Breakout sessions. Mine was entitled “strategies for making the abstract concrete”, but there was only one strategy offered: use metaphor! Takehome lesson: if you are funny and charismatic, no one will notice that you’re not actually saying anything new.
  3. A semester-long pedagogy seminar, which I cleverly took last fall. Departments are all required to design such a seminar, but given no guidance other than “you need to offer a pedagogy seminar for your GSIs.” In our department, we read seminal papers from the history of the earth sciences, and we talk about science. We don’t discuss pedagogy. Then we wonder why our undergraduate enrollment numbers are so scraggly-lookin’.

Was it adequate? Well, we’re two weeks into the semester, and the number one actual question from my actual students has been: where’s the bathroom? This was not covered during any of the training sessions. Fortunately, there is a sign in the lobby of the lecture hall that says “[gendered bathroom symbol] [arrow]” and Berkeley students are smart enough to suss out the relevant cultural signifiers, apply them to a specific spatial context, and apply the resulting strategies to their lives as productive citizens. Or maybe they just go ’round the corner and pee on the wall, I don’t know.


  1. Lab Lemming wrote:

    What TF is pedagogy and what does it have to do with Earth science? More importantly, how do you convert it into volts, amps, or some other measurable quantity? Assuming that you’re teaching the lab part of the course (the traditional use for grad students), you guys should build a pedogometer, calibrate it, and measure some geologically meaningful localities.

    On a more serious note, mind sharing any of those actually useful discipline-specific tricks?

  2. Wren wrote:

    *I* cleverly got to Berkeley before any of this crap was required.

  3. Bill Tozier wrote:

    Pedagogy is getting people to do what you say, and answer questions you ask in the way you expect.

  4. Lab Lemming wrote:

    So now that the teaching semester is 3 weeks old, how many of your students have found this blog and pinned it on you?

  5. yami wrote:

    None have mentioned it to me yet… I’ll have to start talking trash about them and revealing confidential information, I’m sure that’ll smoke ’em out of the woodwork.

  6. Rew wrote:

    Pedagogy is like education, except requiring more Greek. We already have pedagogometers (albeit flawed ones) in the form of standardized tests. The calibration is generally the main problem.

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