Teaching is an important and enriching component of academic scholarship. Learning to teach a valued component in the education of our mathematics graduate students and being a teaching assistant is a critical part of both their professional development and financial support. Mathematics graduate students typically begin their teaching responsibilities during their first year of graduate study when they serve as lab assistants and work in the help room. Beginning in their second year, they teach their own calculus class, of roughly 20-35 students, which meets 3 hours a week, with a weekly laboratory session supervised by two teaching assistants.
Duties of Graduate Students with Teaching Assistantships
- One-Week Teacher Training: All entering graduate students are required to attend a one-week teacher training program which begins the Monday of the week before fall classes begin. This program is designed to prepare graduate students to lead calculus labs and to begin the training for teaching a laboratory calculus course. To see a detailed schedule for the most recent (or next) training week, please contact the Supervisor of First Year Instruction (SFI).
- Year-Long Teacher Training: All first-year graduate students will participate in a year-long teacher training program which is run by Victoria Akin and Sarah Schott of the Math Department. In this program, graduate students will attend seminars, observe current graduate student teachers, as well as practice teaching, grading, and exam writing. In addition, graduate students will receive guidance on how best to interact with undergraduates both in the classroom and in office hours. Once a graduate student begins teaching (typically in the second year), a faculty member will visit the class and provide feedback to the new teacher.
- Lead or Assist with a Calculus Lab: First-year graduate students are typically assigned the job of leading or assisting with a calculus lab. Each lab meets once a week for 105 minutes (for MATH 105L Laboratory Calculus & Functions I, MATH 106L Laboratory Calculus & Functions II, MATH 111L Laboratory Calculus I, and MATH 112L Laboratory Calculus II) or 75 minutes (for MATH 122L Introductory Calculus II with Applications). In these labs we use a locally written lab manual and we ask students to use the TI-83 calculator (for MATH 105L, 106L, 111L, and 112L) or Maple (for MATH 122L). Lab assistants will attend weekly lab preparation meetings, grade lab materials, staff the departmental help room for 2 hours each week, and help with the grading of the departmental final exams at the end of the semester.
- Teach a Course: Once a graduate student has been assigned to teach a class, then he or she will have the same duties that all teachers in our courses assume. In addition to the usual lesson writing, lecturing, and grading, these duties also entail participation (for 2 hours a week) in a Departmental help room. All teachers help to grade the departmental exams at the end of the semester.
Training for Teaching Assistants at Duke
The teacher training program for graduate students has been ongoing since fall, 1987. The program is currently coordinated by Victoria Akin and Sarah Schott, both of whom are assistant professors of the practice in the mathematics department, in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies and the Supervisor of First-year Instruction.
During the week before classes begin in the fall, the graduate students who will be serving as lab assistants participate in a week-long teacher training (recent schedule linked above) led by Clark Bray, Supervisor of First-year Instruction. In this workshop the participants are introduced to Duke's laboratory calculus courses. This workshop is designed to enable graduate students to begin their work as lab assistants.
During their first year of graduate study, all graduate students participate in a weekly teaching seminar led by Victoria Akin and Sarah Schott. There are two related purposes of the seminar: (1) to prepare graduate students to teach introductory calculus courses here at Duke and (2) to introduce graduate students to educational issues that they will need to be knowledgeable of if they are to become effective college mathematics faculty. The activities of the seminar include:
- A discussion of what constitutes good teaching and how undergraduates learn mathematics.
- Observations of lessons taught by current graduate student teachers.
- Discussion of the above-mentioned observations.
- How to organize lessons: planning, time management, homework .
- Overview of content of our Calculus courses with emphasis on what students find difficult.
- How to create in-class exams.
- Grading exams, and the importance of consistency.
- Current issues in undergraduate mathematics education.
- A panel of current graduate student teachers.
- A discussion of office hours, how to start the semester, rules and regulations, services available to freshmen.
- Presentation of a 15-minute practice lesson.
- Two lectures given to real calculus classes during the spring semester of their first year of graduate school. These presentations are observed by a member of the teaching faculty and/or the graduate student's faculty mentor. Afterwards, the observer meets with the graduate student to discuss what worked and what needs improvement.
Most of our graduate students begin teaching their own class during the fall of their second year. During the semester that a graduate student begins teaching his or her own classes, they are observed twice by a faculty member. These observations are followed up with a discussion. If the quality of teaching is satisfactory, no more observations are made, but if problems are perceived, another observation will be made to see if the suggestions are being implemented. At the end of that first semester of teaching and after the graduate student reads his or her Teacher-Course Evaluations, the graduate student will write a self-evaluation describing his or her perceived strengths and weaknesses and discussing ways to improve. The Teacher-Course Evaluations and the self-evaluations serve as the basis for a discussion between the new teacher and the coordinator of teacher training. If there are no major problems, this point marks the end of his or her training. If problems are evident, a plan is designed to help that individual graduate student improve his or her teaching.