How Do I Deal With


rating: 0+x

The Challenges of Grading

First of all, remember that your role is to help students learn, not to help them get a good grade - the grade is their responsibility…making sure grades are applied to students fairly is your responsibility. This requires a certain degree of trust between professors/TA's and students.

Getting an "A" can be a student's greatest motivation for coming to class - so how do you handle those students who don't seem to care about the class at all, or with those who are so focused on their grade that they've lost sight of what the course is supposed to be about?

Let students know that your expectations are high, and assure them that one less-than-perfect grade is not going to ruin them. Give your classes plenty of opportunities to improve their grades throughout the semester - this may mean a little more work for you, but it will also encourage your students to learn from their own mistakes and can help solidify difficult or challenging topics.

(More about "Grading")

Latecomers, Cell-Phones and Other Interruptions

Even the most experienced TA's often struggle with students who interrupt class by coming in late, answer cell phones or pagers, etc. How you handle these situations have a lot to do with the tone you establish for your classroom. You can choose to disallow students who are late from coming in after class has begun, but what message does that send? Instead, why not try to set up the situation so students WANT to come to class on time? What could be a positive incentive for them to arrive before class begins - Is it a 5-minute opportunity for an informal chat with you? Is it another chance to ask questions about challenging lecture materials?

Unless you have mirrors showing you every student's computer screen and some kind of cell-phone signal jammer, it's incredibly challenging to keep these distractions out of the classroom. Again, though, how you deal with the situations when they arise is important to your class environment.

  • If you notice a student who is always surfing the net, use that student to look something up for his/her fellow classmates during class. Let them know that you know (and gently discourage) their attention is divided, but don't make that point in a negative way.
  • One TA has a policy that if a student's cell phone rings during class, the TA gets to answer the phone - nomatter if the person on the other end is a boyfriend/girlfriend, mom/dad, or boss. While this does disrupt class for a few moments, it rarely happens more than once during the semester, if at all…and this "policy" can be really helpful in getting the message that cell phones are to be turned off during class across to students in a memorable, humorous way.

(More about "Interacting with students")

A Room Full of Blank Stares

One of the greatest fears of any TA is facing a room full of students, asking a question, and hearing nothing in response. Often, students will even feign involvement in or intense focus on something else to avoid the TA or professor's stare. While it sometimes does, this may not always mean that students are unprepared - for some students, speaking in class can be very intimidating.

Instead of asking students to discuss readings, guide them into discussing ideas, problems, or issues that some class material might help them approach. Some professors and TA's play "Devil's Advocate" and provoke their students by challenging them to think about, then talk about, important themes and concepts. When a stream of conversation starts, don't quell it just because it doesn't follow your lesson plan - this is where flexibility is essential! Steer discussions around important topics, but let students bring up their own arguments, resources and questions - this shows that they're intellectually involved in what's going on in class.

If no one answers your question, consider re-framing the question. Instead of "What do you think about the division of North and South Korea?" try approaching the question from another angle like "Why might World War 3 start over a conflict between North and South Korea?" or "What obstacles seem to be keeping the two Koreas from reunifying?" Phrase questions in such a way that there is really no wrong answer - of course there is, but giving an outright "no" can sometimes shut down student interaction and should be carefully approached.

So how should you respond if their answer is wrong or completely off topic? If it's tied to something else you're planning to cover, try saying "That's moving a little ahead of where we are right now…what about (and rephrase the question)?" Or, if an answer is just wrong, try figuring out what the answer might be "right" for and using that to steer the answer back toward your original question.

Of course, for some students, individual interaction is simply terrifying - these can be perfect situations for group work, games or other less formal methods. Make all projects an opportunity to learn, not necessarily a way to get a grade. Try to take the pressure off participating in class, and provide a combination of opportunities for both individual and collective work.

(Check out Ideas, Ideas, Ideas.)

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 License.