Asif Zaman, Department of Mathematics

TA Teaching Excellence Award, 2014

DID YOU ATTEND ANY OF THE TEACHING ASSISTANT TRAINING COURSES OR WORKSHOPS OFFERED BY CTSI/TATP?
a. How did the certificate program overall contribute to your development as a teacher?

I registered in the AUTP program in 2013 and have since completed it.

The TATP workshops exposed me to new teaching methods, the importance of maintaining a teaching portfolio, strategies for fostering academic integrity, and the role of Accessibility Services. Peer discussion during the workshops was particularly helpful since we shared many interdisciplinary perspectives.

Personally, I found the Microteaching and Teaching Dossier components to be exceptionally useful. I obtained concrete feedback on my teaching from peers and experts and compiled a dossier that was professionally evaluated. These made me a better teacher and more aware of my own development.

I would happily recommend the certificate to any TA looking to further develop her or his teaching skills.

b. Which one workshop was most useful for you and why?

“Dealing with Students in Difficulty” facilitated by Cheryl Shook (Registrar, Woodsworth College) was especially informative with many examples of real-life cases, personal anecdotes, and peer-based discussion. I am aware that these situations are often critical moments for the people involved but I have very little professional experience with the topic. As a result, I really appreciated the story-telling approach of the workshop and feel better equipped to deal with such scenarios.

YOU RECEIVED A 2014 TEACHING EXCELLENCE AWARD. WHAT DOES THIS RECOGNITION MEAN TO YOU?
It is always an extremely humbling and gratifying experience to be appreciated for your work, especially when it is done with the help of so many people.

I gratefully acknowledge my amazing colleagues in the Department of Mathematics without whom I never would have received this award. The department is filled with very caring and thoughtful TAs/instructors who generously share their vast experience and insights. Drawing from this source has been invaluable in my own growth as a teacher.

Last but certainly not least, being nominated by my own students is itself an enormous honour.  I have been immensely privileged to work with highly motivated, engaged, and hard-working students. They make my job much easier to do and tremendously rewarding.

CAN YOU RECALL A TEACHER WHO INSPIRED YOU?
At every stage of my education, from elementary school to graduate school, I was remarkably lucky to have incredible teachers each with their own unique qualities, some of which were never-ending compassion, charming quirkiness, unapologetic enthusiasm, an odd sense of humour, and unreasonable meticulousness.

In particular, I would like to mention Professor Joe Repka in the Department of Mathematics at UofT from whom I took a graduate algebra course and a teaching course. He is more patient, encouraging, and down-to-earth than any instructor I have ever seen. These characteristics create a welcoming classroom environment and I try my best to emulate him in my own teaching.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO NEW TAs?
From one of my favourite science TV shows of all time:

“Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”
– Miss Frizzle (from the Magic School Bus)

We’re all learning to be TAs. It’s not a well-defined process and that’s okay. Based on my experience, here are a few things I think are worth trying:

  • Talk to other TAs.  They are more than happy to share their experiences and help guide you. You just need to ask them.
  • Learn the names of your students. It builds a community-based classroom, creates connections, and personally invests everyone including yourself. Even if you are bad at remembering them, keep trying and students will appreciate the effort.
  • Solicit evaluations. Devise a simple survey for your students and halfway through the term, you can obtain valuable feedback on what you are doing well and what you can improve.
  • Contextualize your approach. Each group of students is different so be willing to adapt. Some teaching techniques you’ve previously found successful may not work as well whereas others may be much more effective.