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?

Fri Fun Facts: Thinking about First Year Exams

Today’s Friday Fun Facts is about mid-terms and Teaching Assistants.

I have previously blogged about the importance of letting go and giving the Teaching Assistants more autonomy combined with guidance. This last week I facilitated a review session for the large first year class. This is the one thing that I have not let go of in the team-taught course–a sense of going that extra mile for the large first year class.

To be clear, if the course was not team taught with three other faculty, the review session would take place during class time. But the review session I offer is after class. This does add to my workload and I’m fine with this. I am thinking about how I prepare them for the mid-term and the process of working with the Teaching Assistants like a team. My role is to mentor the Teaching Students in this process of assessing student work.

1. I think that first year students need more guidance with their first mid-term. I understand that during the Fall term that the mid-term in my class might be their first mid-term ever.

2. I provide a list of possible exam questions so that they can study during the three to five days before the exam.

3. The exam will pull from the array, but not require them to write on all of them.

4. I grade about 10-20% of the exams in order to provide the Teaching Assistants with some sample marked exams and I also provide them a working key. I say working key since the students might offer us a different point on a question.

5. I view the Teaching Assistants’ work and have any D or F exams include a note that they must visit me during my office hours. I feel that these students should chat with me about their exam. I need to know what happened. And honestly in 14 years of working with first year students those that come to my office generally own their poor grade—didn’t study, didn’t come to class or similar point.

Overall, I do feel that teaching first year requires a more hands on approach. The jump to university work is harder for some students. And each year my students remind me of this. Good luck to all of us writing and marking exams!

Letting Go: Teaching Assistants

This term I did something that I haven’t done before, I am trusting the Teaching Assistants as a group to run workshops and formulate possible mid-term questions. At first it gave me pause, but now it feels quite liberating to offer them this opportunity. I haven’t heard any negative feedback from the first workshop, so I assume that it went well.

And, the students barely had access to the working mid-term questions, so we’ll see what they think of the exam. My philosophy (still) with the TA’s is that they are an apprentice role. This letting go might really be based on the fact that four of my 6 TAs have worked with me before and that I feel comfortable with their work ethic and their knowledge of the material. I’m not sure. But, I do realize that part of our working relationship is to mentor them. What better way, than offering them some more autonomy.

Sure, I’ll still provide grading keys and answer any questions as needed in the hallway, my office, via email as this is part of the deal. But, I will also look to more chances for them to take a leadership role with the students’ learning. I want these TAs to share my excitement with working with students. It’s such an important part of our work and we cannot privilege research–here is their chance to decide if this entire academic “thing” is for them.

I just hope that the next batch of TAs are as good as this current one. Fingers crossed.