Beth Jean Evans, Political Science and School for the Environment

2013 TA Teaching Excellence Award recipient

Beth Jean Evans, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Political Science and the School for the Environment, and a 2013 recipient of the Teaching Excellence Award spoke with Bulletin editor, Kelly Rankin about the importance of the TA training program, winning the Teaching Excellence Award and the teachers who inspired her.

DID YOU ATTEND ANY OF THE TEACHING ASSISTANT TRAINING COURSES OR WORKSHOPS OFFERED BY CTSI/TATP? 
Prior to beginning my first position at U of T, I attended a TATP (Teaching Assistant Training Program) training session for incoming teaching assistants in the Department of Political Science. It consisted of a series of very informative short presentations on topics such as the rights and responsibilities of University of Toronto employees and the role of the union in mediating disputes, how to balance course work with teaching duties and deal with contractual issues, and more generally how to ensure a positive and productive learning environment.

HOW DID THE COURSES PREPARE YOU FOR TEACHING?
Never having run tutorials before, I was pretty much devoid of any sense of pedagogy and therefore slightly apprehensive about teaching when I first came to U of T. However, the TATP training sessions eased many of my concerns by giving straightforward and practical advice on how to grade and teach effectively, making the transition much smoother than it otherwise would have been.

YOU RECEIVED A 2013 TEACHING EXCELLENCE AWARD. WHAT DOES THIS RECOGNITION MEAN TO YOU?
I think that the very existence of this award, along with the broader services offered by the TATP, is indicative of the importance that the University of Toronto assigns to ensuring a quality undergraduate experience, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to work at such an institution. I have always had a passion for teaching and so it means a great deal to me that I have been able to provide my students with a learning experience that they feel has been valuable. I am therefore deeply honoured that I was chosen for this award, as I can think of numerous teaching assistants in my department alone whose dedication to their students makes them equally, if not more, deserving of this recognition than I.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO STUDENTS?
I would urge students to make better use of academic resources such as the writing centre, the library research resources and other student services, which can help with anything from how to properly structure and reference a paper to how to manage stress and balance responsibilities. I also advise students to take better advantage of their TA’s office hours by using them to gain clarification on course concepts, rather than simply as a venue to sort out administrative issues or to discuss pre- or post-assignment crises. This one-on-one interaction is not only useful for the student, but it also gives the TA a better understanding of where students are struggling, which can allow them to adjust their teaching accordingly. I know that all of these things take up time and require a little more advance planning, but the improved academic performance and psychological well-being that result are well worth the effort.

CAN YOU RECALL A TEACHER WHO INSPIRED YOU?
I have been extremely lucky to have on my dissertation committee two excellent professors from the Department of Political Science, Matthew Hoffmann and Steven Bernstein. Their ability to simultaneously encourage my intellectual expansion while at the same time keeping me firmly on track has been invaluable to my development, and I endeavour to provide my students with the same level of commitment and support that my supervisors have given me.

Professor Lilach Gilady, for whom I have been a teaching assistant for the past four years, has also been a significant source of inspiration, as her ability to present course material in a way that makes it simple enough for students to comprehend without detracting from its profundity is something I try to emulate in my own teaching.