Managing People

Occasionally in higher education faculty will manage or supervise undergraduates or graduate students. Particular to my position, I am pretty darn lucky to have a team of Teaching Assistants reporting to me. I also have two undergraduates doing work for me, as well. Today’s Friday Fun Facts are about things I have learned about managing or supervising people.

For the last three years I have had ample opportunity to manage more than one dozen people and this short list is a start.

1. Clarity. Make sure that your directions are painfully clear. I provide the Teaching Assistants with a dossier that includes a one page statement and copies of graded work from the previous term.

2. Deadlines. This is related to the above point. You must make sure that you give clear deadlines for graded work or deliverables. If they are not met, then you can deal with it effectively.

3. Communication. I have found that the best thing that I can do is chat periodically via email or face to face and check in with the student. Likewise, the check in can prevent any issues.

4. Transparency. I find that occasionally a Teaching Assistant will not understand the logic behind an assignment or opportunity. And, I remember that this person is learning and I am mentoring him/her. For instance, I had an extra credit opportunity two weeks ago and one Teaching Assistant felt that awarding of 1-5 points was arbitrary. I explained that students who submitted strong work on time would beg to differ. You have to explain your reasoning and most times you’ll hear, “Oh, I didn’t think about that.” And, that is when you smile.

5. Professionalism. Establish the boundaries to the working relationship. Some will not understand that they can pop by for non-office hour consultations. If you have an open door policy with the students who are working with you–you need to tell them.

6. Mentor. Remember that for all intents and purposes what you are doing really comes down to mentoring. Mentoring undergraduates with how to plan events, do research, and more (just some of the tasks that the two students are currently undertaking). While the graduate students are facilitating discussion, grading, meeting with students, coming to class, and learning their own pedagogical strategies.

7. Supervising. Another important aspect of managing people is also dealing with any problems. In terms of the graduate students, it’s rather easy. You speak to the student and if you must make sure that the Graduate Advisor is in the loop. We have mid-term evaluations of our Teaching Assistants and this is the perfect time to share concerns or progress with the students, as well as with the Graduate Advisor. I have had no problem writing an unsatisfactory evaluation of a Teaching Assistant. You will save the next instructor the headache. However, I do suggest that you let the Teaching Assistant know that you have given an honest assessment.

Overall, these points are a start to the list and certainly not exhaustive. I would like to add that it’s extremely important to keep to performance reviews and give constructive feedback. One question that I have often asked is, “How can I help you be successful with your position?” This question is a simple one and more useful than, “What can I do for you?” My point is that you have to ask questions. What sort of questions do you ask?

 

Dear Professor: My Parents are Lost at Sea and I Need an Extension

Today’s Fri Fun Facts is about keeping it real. I give lots of advice on the Fri Fun facts and today it’s about not crafting elaborate stories in order to get an extension on work. During the last two school years I am definitely seeing that the grandparents are safe and not dying at the high rates that they used to and this might be related to how clear my syllabus is about providing proof. And, the proof about a death in the family usually is from the service—the funeral home or church typically puts together a program for the service. This might seem like an onerous request, but I find that it has kept many grandparents safe! In all seriousness, I am giving some quick advice about due dates and managing your time. In case you’re wondering, I did get a student email about parents lost t at sea. I contacted tthe Coast Guard. The student was embellishing and did not get an extension.

1. Manage your time well. In my courses the paper assignments are included in the syllabus, so from day one the students know what the assignments are and when they are due.

2. If you’re in over your head, make an appointment or come to your instructor’s office hours. I’ll be honest, I do think that I am more likely to be more flexible when a student “owns” their education and sense of overwhelm and talks to me face to face and asks for an extension. I do not always give the extension, but I think I am more apt to weigh the request differently than a last minute email.

3. Rely on resources around campus. At UVIC the library has an assignment calculator and students can type in the due date and a schedule is calculated that helps students organize their time. Attend class, go to tutorial, office hours, and schedule the time to conduct research and writing time.

4. Re-read points 1-3. I cannot emphasize how much guidance you will get from your professor if you ask for it. There is a reason why I had 8 hours of office hours this last week and that there was a line up–I care and I’m here to help. The only way that you’ll get guidance from your professor is if you talk to her/him.

With this—I ask that you finish your term on a high note and organize your time before the final exams begin. Good luck!

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with any of my current courses or students. It is merely the time of year when a post of this nature is appropriate.