Rutgers University Department of Physics and Astronomy
Training of Teaching Assistants has two components. First, there is the Teaching Assistant Project, TAP, sponsored by the Graduate School which serves all departments at Rutgers. TAP does several things such as sponsoring an annual orientation program for first year TA's, ensuring English proficiency for international TA's, providing support and guidance in handling personal difficulties such as in psychological counseling and problems with sexual harassment, and supporting departmental training programs. The Physics and Astronomy Department has been major contributor to the Graduate School TAP.
The second component, and most important one, is within the Department of Physics and Astronomy; it is among the most active and comprehensive training programs at Rutgers. In addition to meetings that discuss general procedures, there are training sessions. Each year, the department sponsors three all-afternoon meetings for all TA's. These training sessions cover methods and techniques for communicating with students and how to involve students in the learning process.
One session often focuses on cultural diversity in the classroom. A faculty moderator leads the TA's in a discussion of classroom situations seen in a videotape. This session is very popular and the TA's enthusiastically participate. Another session may cover varieties of teaching techniques. The TA's learn that there are many ways to successfully communicate knowledge and that the style they adopt must work well for them. Another session covers teaching physics, especially the case of the introductory physics lab. Here the method of Socratic guidance as advocated by Arnold Arons is examined.
The departmental training also includes weekly meetings such as for the introductory lab TA's to ensure that everyone is proficient in explaining the experiment and competent in running the apparatus. At these meetings the experiment and pedagogical goals are reviewed; equipment operation, safety items, and procedural issues are examined. TA's in recitation sections and workshops have similar meetings that discuss issues relevant to their course.
In conjunction with the Graduate School TAP, the department offers individual training such as videotaping TA's to improve their teaching techniques and communication skills. The department has also assisted the Graduate School in developing a video tape covering situations that are unique to teaching a lab course.
Finally, the department makes an annual award to an outstanding TA. The recipient is awarded a plaque and a prize of several hundred dollars. His/her name is entered on a permanent plaque displayed prominently in the department.