TA Training

Teaching assistants in the Department of Mathematics play an important role in the instruction of undergraduate math courses.  We expect TAs will develop and improve teaching skills through classroom instruction as they gain experience.  The training of math TAs has been focused on TAs who are new to teaching in mathematics.  Some courses require more specialized training and all TAs will work under faculty/staff supervision.

All new teaching assistants in mathematics are required to take part in a pre-semester orientation and training program.  The main components are through the Mathematics Department as well as through the College of Letters & Science.  New TAs will work with a TA Course Coordinator who is an experienced fellow TA.

Pre-semester Training

The main emphasis is on teaching the courses a new TA will teach in the coming semester.  New TAs will typically teach discussion sections attached to a calculus lecture.  They will meet with the lecturer and the other TAs to discuss the lecturer's plans for the course, what he/she will be expecting of TAs, how the course will be graded, etc.  New TAs will also attend orientation and teaching practice sessions during Welcome Week organized by the TA Supervisor and the TA Course Coordinators.  The orientation session will provide information about roles of TAs in the department, undergraduate courses and undergraduate students taking these courses, and TA policies and procedures.

In addition, there is a required summer TA Training program for all international TAs.  This program has two separate courses, one through the English Department and the second through the Mathematics Department.  Both focus on pedagogy of teaching, teaching practice and issues specific to teaching mathematics.

Working with the Lecturer and TA Course Coordinator

The lecturer is responsible for the content, level, and many other details of the course.  He/she also is familiar with what works in the classroom and what does not work for this course, these students, etc.  The lecturer is an appropriate person to ask for help on almost anything connected with the teaching assignment. 

New TAs will also be assigned a TA Course Coordinator who is an experienced TA teaching sections attached to the same lecture, who volunteered and was selected for this position based on experience and teaching ability.  The coordinator will also be serving as a mentor during the semester.  The coordinator will  meet with the new TAs in the lecture.  The coordinator and possibly the lecturer will come to visit the TA's class and give the TA feedback.  The department can also arrange for a TA to have a class videotaped so that a TA can critique his/her own teaching.  The new TA, will also observe the TA Course Coordinator's discussion sections and provide feedback.

As classes get under way TAs will no doubt have additional questions that they need help with.  Such questions typically range from classroom content (How can I explain the mean value theorem?) to managing the class (How do I deal with a disruptive student?) with many in-between possibilities (I can't seem to come up with good quiz questions...).  New TAs are always encouraged to communicate with the lecturer and the TA Course Coordinator on these issues as they will bring different styles from their own teaching experiences.  Attending lecture along with students is not only required but is a good way to figure out how to conduct discussion sessions.

Continuing TAs who are not having teaching problems are not required to take part in any further training.  TAs who seem to be having trouble in their teaching, judged by evaluation results or student complaints or feedback from class visits, may be asked to take part in additional training addressing their specific issues.

L&S TA Training

In addition, the College of Letters and Science (L&S) hosts a one day TA training program.  This program is actually open to all TAs, new and experienced but attendance is mandatory for all students who will be a TA for the first time.  The training includes sessions run by experienced, award winning TAs and gives a chance to learn from some of the best TAs on campus.  Usually one or two of them are Mathematics TAs.

Equity and Diversity Training

Participants receive information about relevant laws, policies, regulations and resources; explore the practical application of these policies to classroom and learning environments; and engage in facilitated conversations designed to promote interdisciplinary dialogue and excellence through diversity.  These sessions promote the development of cpompetencies that sustain and strengthen UW-Madison's position of preeminence in research and higher education and advance critical campus strategic priorities. 

TAs should complete the training in the semester in which they begin teaching.  TAs may not be reappointed for more than one semester without having completed the University's Equity and Diversity Training.  Information about this training will be available early each semester from the Office of Equity and Diversity.  See also:  http://www.oed.wisc.edu/workshop.html

Additional Resources

Most experienced teachers are happy to talk about how to teach. Teaching is an intensely personal activity, and you may find what they say does not quite fit your teaching style, but you can probably learn something by listening even if you disagree strongly with what they are saying.  TAs are strongly encouraged to communicate with faculty, staff, and fellow TAs about their teaching experience.

The Kleene Mathematics Library has a collection of books expressly maintained for reference on teaching questions. That collection also has some videotapes related to teaching. In addition the library has books and journals relating to research in mathematics education: Additional mathematics education resources can be found at the UW School of Education's Center for Instructional Materials and Computing.

The Math Forum on the web has links to many resources relating to mathematics teaching.


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