Fri Fun Facts: Performance Reviews

Today’s Fri Fun Facts is about my new use of writing Performance Reviews for the Teaching Assistants. After looking through the Canadian Union of Public Employee’s Agreement between my employer and the local group, I decided that it would behoove me to offer the Teaching Assistants a more formal review.  Today’s Fri Fun Facts will speak to how I will do this every term on.

Performance Review

My intention was to provide each Teaching Assistant with an honest, fair assessment of their work this term hoping that they could use the review in their teaching dossiers or as part of their resume paperwork. Writing the reviews took more time than I thought it would, as I really wanted to convey a personal review for each Teaching Assistant. How did I do this?

When I meet with each Teaching Assistant to review their graded work, I would email myself notes about the meeting and these summaries were useful. When students would see me during office hours and offer unsolicited comments about their Teaching Assistant, I would email myself a copy of the comments for my records. These little things were important to providing me a memory of the Teaching Assistant’s performance.

My suggestions:

1. Keep notes or records about the Teaching Assistant’s performance. If there is every tricky situations, these notes are really useful.

2. Check in with the Teaching Assistants to make sure that they are doing well and feel that they are getting enough support from you.

3. Provide them guidelines about your expectations. You might email or verbalize this. I actually provide a dossier: a one to two page expectations letter, sample graded work, exams, grading guidelines for the university, and a copy of the syllabus.

4. Be available. You need to set up times to be available for their questions or be willing to guide and coach the Teaching Assistants as needed. Some will need more of your time and others hit the ground running.

5. With the review, think about the Teaching Assistant’s grading, effort, interaction with the team, students, and comment on this. Note any areas for improvement and be willing to note if you think that you could have supported the Teaching Assistant more.

6. Be honest. The review should be helpful, but it does not need to only be positive. Constructive comments are sometimes needed, but offer them in a helpful manner.

Overall, the Performance Review should be helpful for you, the Teaching Assistant, and any future employer who sees the document. Remember that the arrangement is really an apprenticeship and you need to mentor or coach the graduate student, as this is not “free” grading for you. The cost is really supervising and helping the Teaching Assistant perform the duties. I have to remind myself of this occasionally! How do you evaluate your graduate students?

Teachable Moments: Part 1

Recently I had the opportunity to give a talk related to Gender and Public Policy. I spent the talk really talking about the elephant in the room—patriarchy and sexism. I figure that if the students should have an honest conversation about the existence of systemic issues that influence their lives and influence public policy. When I have these conversations with students several things typically happen. There are nodding heads among the students and several who have had sociology or women’s studies and are cognizant of readings or other information. Some people will cross their arms and stop listening—they see women in their classes and as a woman she might not have ever experienced any sexism/racism/classism and what am I talking about in class? This is not her experience. Others are open to the conversation and want to understand where the disconnect it—lots of women on campus, yet not in the workforce. And, then others sit in the class enjoying the question and answer period and are not sure where they stand. They want to see where the chips fall. This is a quick and easy description and certainly not exhaustive.

And, some will offer that women just do not want to be engineers, doctors, politicians, and the like. Their opinion is generally this: if women really wanted to do these things—we would see more women in this array of professions. That is, it’s women’s fault for their lack of success. If women were more ambitious they could have it all, they could do it all.

Well, where do you go with a statement like that? There are so many layers to cut through with that sentiment and logic. And, understand that the student who makes this statement is not looking for a fight or using sarcasm. In my experience, the comment is a common one and usually said without any malice. So, it is not conducive for me to pull a Dana Carvey and say, “No, you’re wrong and here is why.” (This dates me, but I’m thinking of his bit on SNL when he starts saying wrong or no. See this: The truth is that the person who raised this point is not right or wrong. This person is offering an opinion and the opinion might be based on life experience or just what s/he thinks.

This is ripe teachable moment and my reaction is important for a few reasons:
1. I represent all feminists on the planet in the classroom.
2. If they like my response then I’m OK, but if they don’t, then I’m one of those mean fill in the blank feminists.
3. If I disagree it is read as critical or attacking and I am biased or have a closed mind.
4. If I my explanation is something they can work with then things are salvageable.

Now, those four points are said in a tongue in cheek fashion. You see, it is easier to recover or move on with a conversation when you have a few months with a group, but when you have 50-90 minutes each minute is precious.

What I have attempted to do is respond in such a way that I am open to the statement, but offer an alternative point of view and then call on the audience to participate in the discussion.

What do I do in this situation? I attempt to offer that there are systemic reasons for the different numbers of women in leadership positions, but do not rely on the “they just are not ambitious.” I know too many ambitious women who have left their fields due to the sticky floor and glass ceiling. I know too many young women facing hardship at work and their ambition hits against the reality of issues that are typically outside of their control.

How do you deal with the generalized question about what women want? I look forward to your points.