Friday, December 2, 2011

Lessons from teaching

This semester has been my first real teaching experience, though by no means my first grading experience. I always knew I was a rather atypical student, but it's really been driven home this term. Here are a few of the things I've learned:

1. There are students who will come to office hours without a coherent question or concern, because they were told they ought to take advantage of them. They will sit there in silence, hoping someone else will start asking questions. It will be awkward the first few times.

2. Some students legitimately expect me to grade their assignment before they turn it in.

3. Prompt replies to emails are expected, even at 1 AM.

3a. These students are the least prompt about respond to requests via email.

4. There is a roughly inverse relationship between the length of a lab report and the quality of analysis.

5. Any simple assignment can be made complicated. Any complicated assignment can be made impossible.

6. A minimum number of things will break every lab session. This includes things you are breaking on purpose.

7. If you write lots of comments on reports, students ignore them. If you don't write them, they complain about the lack of feedback.

8. The native English speakers make the most interesting grammatical errors.

9. The department admins in charge of registration at GiantU have no respect for prerequisites, and will override the system so students can graduate "on time". Furthermore, our undergraduate advising system is not working. I would like be able to discuss moments of inertia in a junior level class without losing half of them because they haven't taken statics yet.

I've been writing up a list of comments for improving the course for next year, as requested by the professor. It's been a fun and interesting experience, and I'm glad he's encouraging us to reflect. I've also been flattered by the students asking if I'm TAing next semester so they can be in my section (sorry, fellowship says no). On the other hand, I'm excited by next semester. It will be the first semester since I was 5 where I have no classes of any type. Maybe I'll get real research done (ha!).


  1. Can't you teach moment of inertia as simply an integration problem? I remember learning it in a calc class. The statistics class means that they've seen how to solve for moments before, but it's "just" a calculus technique, that they should be able to go home and work out for themselves.

    That is, if they can be depended on to work things out by themselves, and still remember calculus.... which maybe that's the problem.

  2. The problem is when I was planning on discussing more complex concepts based on the moment of inertia, and find myself suddenly backpedaling to get them caught up to where I expected them to be based on course prerequisites.

  3. What wesee is stress from nervous students. In our huge classes of a thousand students, we get inundated with questions which often come down to "DO I need to know this for the exam?" So you teach something a bit more detailed, and they get nervous. I never know how to handle this. I cannot give derivations on multiple choice exams and only a fraction of what is covered can be or is effectively tested. So what do I say? I say you are responsible for all and it is up to you to decide how to study. I also say this is not high school and in first year chemistry, please do not memorize. They still try to memorize which is the way they got their 90% in high school.

    So how do we handle this issue of stress, what we teach vs what is on the exam?

    Glad for your input Miss MSE