As a graduate student wanting a career in academia, you need good teaching evaluations for your job application packets. These evaluations become even more important when you are a new faculty member. Evaluations can play a role when you go up for promotion. However, you are often thrust into a classroom to teach without any teaching experience or training. And when you ask people how to be good at teaching, the answer is usually, “experience”.
This is true. But as a graduate student who has never taught before, you don’t have that!
This post is about how to be thoughtful about your teaching strategies so that your students learn, like you, and give you great evaluations.
Download the Mid-Semester Survey Questions!
Relate to your students
This is where your experience level is a HUGE asset! You know, more recently than any professor, how it feels to be a student and how you felt when you took the same course yourself.
Share your experiences with your students. Explain where you struggled and give them tips on how to succeed in the class.
My students always perk up when I say, “Oh, I remember learning this. A lot of my classmates (or just me) found it difficult but I’ve come up with a good way to explain it.” Students love when you are relatable like this. And it also shows that you care. And those are the things students mention in teaching evaluations.
Make your students feel comfortable
I always greet my students with a smile. I also smile throughout the lecture…but that’s just who I am. And my students always mention it in my teaching evaluations. They always say that they could tell that I loved the subject (because math is awesome!) and that I was happy to be there.
You can also ask them how they are doing. Especially before and after class. Then ask them how they are enjoying the class so far. If you’ve asked your students what their majors are, you can also incorporate relevant examples throughout your lectures.
I highly recommend a mid-semester survey. This will tell you how your students really feel. I like to also ask what they would like to change about class…and actually make some changes. They love this and will share these things in your teaching evaluations!
I’ve made a list for you of my mid-semester survey questions for the class that gave me all positive evaluations. Give them a try and see how they work for you.
Time goes so much slower than you think when you are writing on the board. One minute to you feels like 30 seconds to your students. You have to give them time to absorb what you have written. Even if it feels like you are just standing in silence for an awkwardly long amount of time.
Note: Nothing you do is too awkward. The more awkward the better is my opinion (I’m a mathematician…awkward is our default), as long as you don’t take yourself too seriously. It makes you more approachable to your students.
Another thing. It’s important to realize that students have a jam packed academic schedule as well as social engagements. I’m not saying to give them less work. But try to seem a little sympathetic.
In class group work is my favorite. It gives your students a chance to ask each other questions. It also forces engagement. When I get to a problem in the notes that takes just a little more thought to come up with a game plan for solving it, I like to break my students up into groups of 2 or 3, give them a starting point, and let them talk it out and work it out together.
Coming up with strategies on their own helps them remember the process so much more than just watching me do it! If you would like to learn how to get started with group work, try my free 4-day email course, Student Engagement for GTAs. In this course I show you how to set your class up for group work starting on day one of the semester.
Over-prepare for class
Make sure you have prepared more than enough information, notes, and examples for each class. Use resources other than the class textbook for alternate examples and explanations.
It’s important to actually work the HW problems that will be assigned. That way you will know exactly what topics and ways of thinking should be discussed in class.
Check for understanding every 3-5 minutes
It’s so easy to get caught up in beautiful mathematics and then you look up 10 minutes later and your whole class either looks lost or has zoned out!
Not good. I like to check for understanding at every step. Here’s what I like to ask:
“Does that make sense?”
“What should we do next?”
“What’s the overall goal of the question?”
“If you were working on this problem by yourself, where might you have gotten stuck?”
“Any ideas on how we should approach this problem?”
If you ask these questions, your students will say that you really cared that they understood the material in your teaching evaluations.
Remember, teaching evaluations aren’t everything and you do want to be genuine when you teach. So just be yourself and try to remember how it felt to be a student. How would you want your professor to address the class?
I hope that you enjoyed this post! If you have any other tips or questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below. Also, share this post with other graduate students and new faculty members.