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Moving forward with the Teaching Statement (Workshops) February 28, 2013

Posted by lherakov in : Advice for TAs, Developing and Documenting Teaching, Presenting yourself, Teaching Statement , 2comments

It’s been a while since our last teaching portfolio workshop (8 days to be precise) and this post is, thus, long overdue, but better late than never, right?! If you’re reading this, please know that the feedback we get from you during and after these workshops is truly meaningful and formative to us. So, in today’s post, this feedback will take center stage.

During our last session (held Feb. 20), we focused on the Teaching Statement – both as a stand-alone document and as an organizing introduction to the teaching portfolio. Teaching Statements are one of the most-often requested documents from people applying for academic jobs – understandably so, given that even in research-focused universities, teaching is an indispensable part of a faculty appointment. In short, if you’re planning a career in academia, you should have a Teaching Statement. But beyond that, Teaching Statements are also useful for anyone who would like to begin a systematic reflection on how their teaching experiences (in all the varied formats and contexts) have shaped and continue to shape broader views and practices in our personal and professional lives. You can read more about the Teaching Statement and link to extensive databases of samples by going to the Professional Development for TAs section of this blog and clicking on Teaching Statements.

So let me turn to the feedback and a brief response to key themes in that feedback. But for the sake of brevity, which is already sacrificed, I’ll limit my response to 3 key areas.

1) First, during the workshop a question was raised: “What are absolute no-nos in a Teaching Statement?” We were fortunate to have with us Mary Deane Sorcinelli, CTFD Director, join us in the last part of the workshop and offer her very valuable answer to that question: make sure you don’t sound as if you hate students and teaching is a burden :) For other common mistakes (although there is always some subjectivity involved in judging that), you may want to read this post on the Professor Is In. Not that some of these “errors,” however, are no longer really errors – especially the one about the length of a teaching statement. The acceptable length these days is 1-2 pages. However, the larger point this post refers to still stands – statements need to succinct and “digestible.”

2) In relation to the above and since we focused on improvements, a few of you had also asked in your written feedback, “But what did the people [whose statements we read in the workshop] do right?” As you know, the examples we looked at were of “successful” teaching statements – in the sense that, as part of an application packet, they contributed to the writers’ securing on-campus interviews (meaning, in most cases, that they were finalists for the position they applied for.) So what worked? Here are a few of the things that make statements work for me (as a reader) and that I think were well-done in the examples:

3) Throughout the comments (not just from this workshop, but prior ones as well) one theme continues to run strong – a huge appreciation for working with actual, “real-life” sample statements couple with a desire for more discipline-specific guidance and practice. Often time, comments such as these have been also followed up with a suggestion for longer, more intensive workshops. I could not agree more with the need for this – both the disciplinary specificity and the longer, writing-focused workshops. However, we all do work and live within some structural constraints, and I just want to be upfront that making these changes is not realistic in the current semester (Spring 2013). I will be happy to talk with anyone who might be interested in what those constraints are, as perhaps you can help me see them as opportunities… In the meantime, let me try to re-imagine that concern and attempt to address it in some (hopefully) productive ways:

How do/can we deal with the need for specificity (at this time):

How do/can we deal with the need for writing intensivity (at this time):

To end on a forward-oriented note (something that is also important in a teaching statement!), I am hoping that the commitment to professional development and teaching support for graduate students will continue in the future. As part of this, some of the ideas we hope can become reality soon (but not this semester) include:

I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for what you’d like to see – both within your departments and campus-wide (i.e., CTFD-organized)!!

Mothers in Academia February 14, 2013

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The topic of parenthood, and especially motherhood, in academia is a contentious one. Not at the least because many of us, coming from the social sciences, are equipped with theory and vocabulary to helps us talk about the personal and systemic benefits and challenges of integrating and negotiating scholarship, teaching, and parenthood. Despite many recent publications and frequent mentions of the topic in the Chronicle of Higher Education and other such venues, the topic of motherhood still remains hush-hush in many scholarly departments, while the labors of motherhood (and fatherhood?) remain devalued and/or ignored. If you’re interested in being a part of the conversation about these and other related topics, consider attending the “Mothers in Academia” discussion panel tomorrow (Friday, Feb. 15) , 2-4 pm. Scholars whose work is included in the upcoming book “Mothers in Academia” (co-edited by UMass’ own Mari Castaneda, Department of Communication) will be present to talk about their experiences and their chapters, included in the book. This event is supported by CTFD’s Mutual Mentoring Initiative.

NOTE: ROOM CHANGE – the event will now be held in CAMPUS CENTER 174-176!

“As higher learning institutions move toward more corporate-based models of teaching, the immense structural and cultural changes are transforming women’s academic lives and, by extension, their families. This panel will feature authors from the forthcoming book, Mothers in Academia (Columbia University Press, May 2013) and their experiences with the conditions of working motherhood and academic life.”

ESL Courses on Campus January 29, 2013

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We were recently forwarded the message below that might be of interest to some (sorry for the “plug”)… Don’t forget that even as a student – perhaps more so then – you can still be reflective about teaching and pedagogy…


The English as a Second Language Program at UMass Amherst is offering the following course opportunities on-campus this spring 2013 semester in Bartlett Hall. Interested enrolled graduate or undergraduate students (whose first language is not English) may register on SPIRE for English as a Second Language courses, tailored to the specific language needs of the second-language writer and speaker at the advanced through superior levels. Enrollment in these courses entitles students to substantial individual time during office hours of ESL language specialists.  Feel free to email Margaret Allard to request course descriptions or if you have any questions, mmallard@educ.umass.edu.

ESL 290F University Writing 4cr
Tues/Thurs 11:15-12:30 Bartlett 456

ESL 290D Academic Writing for Graduate Students, 3cr
Tues/Thurs 9:30-10:45 Bartlett 456

ESL 126 Vocabulary & Comprehension in Academic English, 3 cr
Tues/Thurs 9:30-10:45 Bartlett 310

ESL 290C Professional Grammar for Writing and Speaking, 3cr.
Tues/Thurs 11:15-12:30 Bartlett 310

ESL 125 Techniques of Oral Communication, 3cr
Tues/Thurs 1:00-2:15 Bartlett 310

(Computer) Games in the Classroom January 29, 2013

Posted by lherakov in : Developing and Documenting Teaching, Pedagogy, Talking about teaching, Technology and Learning , add a comment

This promises to be a great event – a way to learn something new, think about your teaching philosophy, methods, and strategies, and talk with others interested in the integration of technology in our teaching and learning. Thanks, OIT, for organizing this!

(Due credit: the text below is a copy of an e-mail sent to the UMass campus community by OIT)


Technology & Pie Session: Low-Tech Games for Learning

Games can be used as pedagogical tools for different subjects, class sizes, and educational levels. On Thursday, February 21 from 1:00 to 2:15 p.m., this “Technology and Pie” session will explore approaches for using “low-tech” games in the classroom. Instructors and Doctoral candidates Kate Freedman (History Dept.), Katherine Jones (Sociology Dept.), and Evan Torner (German Dept.) will join us us to demonstrate and discuss how to use low-tech games to create engaging classroom learning experiences for students in higher education.

TO REGISTER: https://etna.oit.umass.edu/public/workshops (If you are asked to create an account, remember to register for the workshop after that!)

About Technology and Pie

“Technology and Pie” is an interest group for faculty and instructors who would like to learn about technologies for learning and teaching. These sessions are intended as quick overviews with discussions about the application of these tools. Faculty have priority for these sessions when seats are limited. And yes, we really do serve pie. Questions? Contact the Instructional Media Lab (instruct@oit.umass.edu or 413-545-2823).

Teaching Wisdom! January 21, 2013

Posted by lherakov in : Advice for TAs, Talking about teaching, Teaching inspiration , add a comment

Last Friday (Jan. 18), we were very fortunate to start the semester wonderfully with a great conversation about the place of grant writing and teaching in graduate students’ lives. I have to say that my favorite part of the event was the teaching panel – what an inspirational group of educators! Even though I have been teaching for nearly 7 years now, I still found so much hope, wisdom, and new learning in their words. So, I humbly offer here the “lessons” that stood out to me the most. Also, because some of you asked me for it, here (Always be learning teaching) is a “transcript” of my own presentation that aimed to emphasize that we are always learning teaching and that the best thing a graduate TA/TO can do is let go of the frustration that teaching might be taking “too much time” and find ways to see teaching as part of a holistic scholarly career. The three areas in which you could focus your teaching development while in graduate school are outlined at the end of the transcript. Click here if you want to access the Always (be) Learning Teaching prezi.

If you were at the event and want to add to or correct the summary below, please feel free to do so. And of course, whether you were there or not, share your thoughts!

On “Words of Wisdom for Teaching Beginners”

On “How to Keep Students Engaged”

On “How Faculty Can Make the Delicate TA Position Fruitful for Grad Students”

On “What Should Grad Students Do If They Think They’re TAing for Horrible Faculty”

Looking back now, perhaps it is better to say that this was an introduction to a conversation. There were perhaps many questions left unasked and, hence, unanswered. But I do hope we would have other opportunities to ask the questions that trouble and inspire us. And I do hope that at least some of you will take the chance to ask (ands answer) these questions during the coming workshops organized by CTFD. The full schedule for the Teaching Studio and the Portfolio Workshops is posted on the CTFD web site (www.umass.edu/ctfd).  Here’s a post describing what the Teaching Studio is, in case you were wondering.

More than coffee: Planning for grad student success January 15, 2013

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Being successful in graduate school and beyond requires more than coffee and sleepless nights, right?

Our first event for Spring 2013 is designed especially for first-year graduate students who want to start strategically planning their graduate experience and post-graduation career. Two panels – one on grant writing and one on teaching – will present their perspectives and answer student questions. The workshop is this coming Friday, Jan. 18, 9.30 -11.30 am in Campus Center 101. Registration is required (e-mail lherakova@gmail.com). Visit this GSGS blog post for more information.

Welcome back and some cool resources January 8, 2013

Posted by lherakov in : Developing and Documenting Teaching, Talking about teaching , add a comment

Hello and welcome back! The Graduate School and CTFD are working on organizing some helpful workshops and events for graduate students. Very soon (as soon as we have rooms confirmed), I will be able to post the full schedule here, but you may also want to periodically check the TA section of the CTFD web site for more information and updates.

In the mean time, you can now access the worksheets from our last Teaching Portfolio workshop by clicking this link: Organizing TPs_Worksheets, or by visiting the Professional Development section of the blog (click on Teaching Portfolio within the section). You can use those worksheets to help you narrow down and organize the documents/artifacts you are want to include in support of your “teaching effectiveness.”

Also, a wonderful external opportunity has come to my attention. The North Carolina State University (NCSU) offers a number of teaching-focused workshops available online for free to registered guests, including a workshop on introduction to the teaching portfolio. Their “Preparing Future Leaders” on-demand series can be accessed here. Teaching-focused topics are marked with red hexagons and abbreviated as FIT (Fundamentals in teaching), but you may also find some of the other topics (e.g., on PDS) relevant to you.

Best of luck to us all in 2013!

The Graduate Students Teaching Studio November 27, 2012

Posted by lherakov in : Developing and Documenting Teaching, Talking about teaching , add a comment

Today concluded the Teaching Portfolio workshop series for this semester (an update about this, as well as some additional materials, will be posted on the blog soon). Interactions during the workshop and comments afterwards unequivocally suggest that we all enjoyed the opportunity to talk about and hear others’ perspectives on teaching. One person even commented that s/he “would love to keep in touch with all the other grad students who attended the workshop and encourage/help each other during the job hunting process.”

What a wonderful idea! And, yet, one that may continue to seem like wishful thinking given our crazy schedules and busy lives… But it got me thinking about something else, too.

Enter (into) the Teaching Studio! 

WHAT: A space where you can carve the time to talk about teaching and experiences in the classroom. A time during which you can grade, lesson plan, develop classroom activates, or work on your teaching statement. Drop in for a chat with a CTFD teaching consultant. Get feedback on teaching statements and portfolios. Network. Make it your own. 
(BONUS: Get a food/drink voucher just for showing up and being willing to be thinking teaching :))

WHERE: Campus Center Room 174-176

WHEN: 9 am – 3 pm on Dec. 4
(well, actually the Teaching Studio is open once a month and this is the lat one for the fall semester; Spring semester dates will be posted on the CTFD web site when finalized)

I should add that a few post-workshop comments I received also expressed a need/desire for workshops that cover more day-to-day teaching topics (e.g., engaging students in discussion). This is also something that we piloted in the Teaching Studio this semester. Each Teaching Studio (well, except for this last one) features a 1-hour long mini-workshop offered in two repeated sessions (one in the morning and one in the afternoon). These workshops focus exactly on classroom strategies and practices and allow us to talk about our experiences and brainstorm ideas in small groups. This is also a great, yet low-key activity to include in your professional development section of the teaching portfolio. Unfortunately, attendance of these workshops has been far from stellar, making it difficult to justify their existence - sniff, sniff…

So, in short, the Teaching Studio is happening and is a great opportunity to work on teaching and connect with others. BUT the Teaching Studio needs you to be there to make it a functional and creative happening. SO, see you there?!

What can CTFD do for you? November 26, 2012

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Good Monday! Have I forgotten to mention how excited we, at the Center for Teaching and Faculty Development and the Grad School, are for being able to offer more support to graduate students on their teaching journeys?! Shameless plug, I know – but think of it this way: many of these programs, such as the grad course and the TDP, have existed for a while and the demand hasn’t been that great. One of the best way for us – grad students – to show that we need and want to see more such programming is to participate in what is already   offered. I am humbled and inspired by the interest in the Teaching Portfolio series and just want to encourage you to check out all the other possibilities CTFD and the Grad School offer for developing and documenting our teaching, as an integral part of the academic profession. Check out a full listing on existing teaching-focused programs for grad students here and as always please send us your ideas!!

When it rains, it pours… November 21, 2012

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… in terms of posts that is :) Just wanted to alert you to another rich resource (complete with best practices and samples) as you’re thinking about/working on your teaching portfolios. Check out the OSU site on the Teaching Portfolio by clicking here. Use the left-hand side bar to navigate to different elements of the portfolio and link to examples from actual grad students’ portfolios.

… and whether we celebrate Thanksgiving or not, we can perhaps all say a little thanks for all those resources (and who knows what else) and celebrate that there is tomorrow (every day :))