I’m teaching the intro zoology lab again this winter. When I was introduced to the students this week, I saw a few familiar faces from last term. When the prof announced that I was going to be the TA for the lab…I swear to god this really happened…I saw at least three in-the-air-fist-pumps and heard at least one “Whoo-hoo!” and a “Yay!”
I am doing something right.
At least, I did something right this fall.
Last winter, despite the potential awesomeness of the material we study in this zoology lab, by the end of the term the students were clearly overwhelmed and uncertain as to what the point of it all was. I sincerely hope that my own teaching skills were not to blame for their negative experiences.
You see, each week the professor in charge basically handed me a list of “here’s the stuff from the lab manual the students are to look at/do”, and then he would disappear and I would set up the materials and help the students work through the exercises. I did not, however, have any input as to the objectives, content, or format. So I did the best I could with what I was given but still ended up feeling pretty lousy about the whole thing, because the STUDENTS seemed to feel pretty lousy about the whole thing. Not exactly what I was going for.
This year, it seemed like disaster was to strike yet again, only worse. I don’t know if it’s because he doesn’t care, or doesn’t think it’s important, but I showed up for the first lab session this Wednesday and Dr. Professor said (and I quote): “I don’t know what we’re doing for these labs yet. Oh, by the way, I’m not going to ask them to buy a lab manual this year.”
Oh for frack’s sake.
That night (after subjecting my wife to a rant session) I looked at my notes from last year and thought hard about how I would run the labs and what I thought the students should get out of the course and how I thought the materials should be organized and presented. The next morning I sat down with Dr. Professor and presented my ideas. At that point, I really wasn’t thinking about the possibility of overstepping my bounds with a bigwig-tenured-dean-head-honcho-type-prof; all I knew was that I didn’t want another crop of students feeling terrible at the end of the course, especially under my watch.
So I don’t know if it’s a good thing from a workload perspective, but I was given the go-ahead to design exercises/handouts for the labs. I just finished the first document, and you know what? I’m pleased. I think it’s a manageable amount of material, with realistic expectations, clear learning objectives, and it also caters to different learning styles.
I may have to broach the delicate matter of my contract, which stipulates a certain number of hours per week; the extra time it will take me to develop these things should be compensated, I think. Despite this technicality, I am tickled pink that I’ve been given some autonomy and might be able to make something good happen here – time will tell.