I am a teaching assistant for my graduate school department. I am employed by the department, who then assign me to work with a different professor every semester. The professor is sort of like my direct supervisor, but the real "boss" is the department chair. This semester the professor I'm working with, Helen, is teaching two courses and is supervising 5 teaching assistant (two for the evening class, which I am assigned to, and 3 for the larger day class). Teaching assistants are responsible for teaching a weekly lab session where the students apply the concepts learned in class in a hands-on way, as well as grading exams. Helen is also teaching several other courses at a few other universities and generally seems frazzled and overworked, though she is pleasant and clearly cares about her students.
The problem is that the students don't seem to be learning the material at the rate they should because the way she has been teaching it is confusing for them (it's also confusing for us, the TAs, sometimes and all of us have extensive training in the subject material, so that says something). The clearest indication of this is the fact that over half the students in my lab section failed the most recent exam, even though it was entirely open book/open notes AND there were 7 points of extra credit built into the exam (so if the tests weren't already pre-curved, then 80% of the class would have failed). My section is generally motivated and reasonably bright so this isn't because the students are lazy or unable to learn or something - my impression is just that most of them are incredibly confused by Helen's course format.
Helen generally presents a large volume of information and spends a lot of time on certain details and not as much emphasizing core concepts. Many students got very, very basic concepts wrong on the test, and for the more detailed questions, many of them clearly copied answers directly from the textbook or otherwise clearly didn't actually understand the question.
Also, the lab exercises Helen has us do don't relate very well to the course material and are often inappropriately long, so that it is impossible to get through them in the allotted time. Myself and the other TAs have talked to her multiple times about this and she agreed to let us modify the labs, except that she has generally only been getting them to us a few hours before the lab starts that day, so we don't actually have time to do anything more than simple formatting changes (i.e., putting instructions in bold so students can find them more easily - the labs are kind of a "wall of text" the way she gives them to us). We have asked her repeatedly to give us more time to look at the labs and collaborate on ways to make them work for the class format but it hasn't happened. We have tried giving her feedback on the lab design so that she can make the length and content of them more appropriate in the first place but she is extremely stubborn about this and has not incorporated any of our feedback. I tried to arrange a weekly meeting with her when we could talk these issues out and we met once and it was moderately successful, but since then she has cancelled the remaining meetings, usually at the last minute (last week I showed up at the meeting time and she said "oh, I'm not ready to meet right now, so we'll do it next week").
After the day classes graded their exams and they were as bad or worse than my section's, Helen even tried to blame it on the minor modifications we've made to a few of the labs, saying that might be why the students don't understand the material. Without our modifications the labs were much more confusing for students to follow which compounded the problem of them being too long, and again the labs don't even relate very closely to the tested material because of how SHE wrote them, so this doesn't make sense. One of the other TAs responded via email defending us and Helen seemed to concede her points, but it worries me that she is trying to possibly blame us for the class under performance when we have so little control over what and how it is taught.
I know the other TA's share my frustrations and am wondering if we should bring our concerns to the department chair. Helen's course is a prerequistive for one he actually teaches next semester, so if the students don't have the core concepts they're supposed to it will impact his class. But this is slightly risky in terms of department politics - Helen is an adjunct, not tenured, so it's not as big a risk as going up against a tenured professor but it is still basically complaining about a supervisor to a higher-up. Would it be better to just let the truth come out when the students hand in their course evals at the end of the semester? The final is the only test left so there isn't much time for her to make many changes, but I also think that a consensus from all the TA's on the course quality probably holds as much or more weight to the chair than the student evals (he takes the grad student's feedback very seriously - he is really an excellent chair).
If you're with me so far, what would you do and how would you word a complaint? I have never taken or TA'd for a class where so many people were failing to learn the material and the professor didn't change their approach once that became apparent.