Darius Rackus, Department of Chemistry

TA Teaching Excellence Award 2015

HOW DID THE ADVANCED UNIVERSITY TEACHING PREPARATION (AUTP) CERTIFICATE AND TATP WORKSHOPS CONTRIBUTE OVERALL TO YOUR DEVELOPMENT AS A TEACHER?
Towards the end of my first year, I registered for the AUTP certificate because I realized that I could only learn so much “on the job”. For the first few workshops, I found it hard to directly apply what I was learning to my teaching context. However, the workshop on active learning was probably the most helpful. It gave me immediate strategies that I could take away and apply in my teaching that very week. Since then, I have worked to include active learning strategies in my lessons and I think my students find my tutorials to be more valuable as a result.

YOU RECEIVED A 2014 TEACHING EXCELLENCE AWARD. WHAT DOES THIS RECOGNITION MEAN TO YOU?
Receiving a teaching excellence award is a great honour, especially as the work and contribution of TAs can be overlooked. More so, it is encouraging to work at a university that values and recognizes good teaching and also provides support for TAs to improve their skills.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO NEW TAs?
My advice to new TAs comes in three points. 1) Care for your students, 2) don’t care too much, and 3) don’t be afraid to step back and let your students do the learning. At a large university like U of T, undergraduates can easily feel like they are just a number. Showing your students that you care for them by coming to class prepared, taking their questions seriously, and giving them your time goes a long way. However, it can be easy to care too much such that you are over-invested in your class and can feel like they have personally failed you when things don’t go so well. Also, as a grad student you have obligations to your own coursework, research, and life that need to be protected. Last, it’s natural to want to have every minute of your class planned for and focused on you as the teacher. However, giving time to students to work independently or in groups on problems or discussion can have real benefits in their learning. The scariest thing that can happen when you relinquish some control over the learning process is that a student asks you a question to which you reply “I don’t know”, but then you both have a learning opportunity!