General Etiquette > All In A Day's Work

Professor is struggling, and everyone suffers.

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--- Quote from: Sootikin on November 21, 2012, 02:30:50 PM ---Were any of the suggestions you got last time you posted about her successful? If they were do the same thing again.

--- End quote ---

Last time I posted it was about how to request she send materials sooner. The consensus was that I shouldn't say anything because it would be too much like "calling her out." The other TA and I did try to schedule weekly in person meetings with her the day before the lab, with the goal of going over the assignments then (to also try to encourage her to have them done by then) but as I mentioned in my OP that worked for one week before she started cancelling the meetings (mainly because she didn't have the labs done - she makes them up each week, which is also baffling, because she's taught the course for years and you'd think she'd just reuse the ones from last semester or many make minor tweaks).

I like the idea of talking to the chair in terms of "what can I do differently/better." The other night TA has already said she is open to us both meeting the chair together because we both have the same concerns - feedback on whether that seems reasonable or not? I don't like the idea of writing an email or something and being the "spokesperson" for the complainers either.

Dr. F.:
I was in almost your exact same position once. There were weekly quizzes that were basically, "Identify structure X on Figure Y" where figure Y was a smeary photocopy out of an old book that pretty much looked like a grey blob. Averages were well under 50%. The teacher of that class was actually filling in for the usual prof., who was out after having a triple bypass.

What I did was to go to my advisor. I had a check-up meeting with me in which he asked how the TAing was going, and I'm afraid he got an earful. We had an excellent working relationship, however, so I don't know if that might or might not work for you.

Other than that, it really depends on dept. culture. I'd probably go to the chair mostly because, if I were the chair, I'd want to hear about it. I seriously doubt this would be the first time concerns were raised.

Having been a grad student and a TA, I would take the TA issues, especially the bits about Helen trying to blame the TAs for the failure rate, to your mentor/adviser. If you don't have either one, then to the department head. You've got some legitimate issues--you only get the labs a few hours ahead of time so you have no prep time, the blaming thing, cancelled meetings. It would be best if a small committee of the affected TAs could meet with the department head, so that he can realize it is not one disgruntled TA having problems, but all of you.

If students complain to you about failing, then encourage them to speak to the department head, or the student ombudsman, if your university has one.

Helen is an adjunct. (I knew that before you mentioned it, because no way would a tenured or tenure-track professor be allowed to teach at so many other colleges.) She is teaching too many courses to keep track of everything or to prepare her lessons properly; I've seen this happen before. I'm sure she's doing it for the money, because adjunct pay isn't great. But that is no excuse to let students' education suffer. Alert the powers that be of the problems all the TAs are having with her. If they investigate at all, they will discover the other problems.


Welcome to the casualisation of education.  This is one of the consequences - not enough time to do adequate preparation.

That said, is she presenting a 'wall of information' to students via a lecture?  Is there background reading that students should be doing?  When I lecture I don't spent time dealing with basic concepts, I spend time applying them, because I've pointed students in the direction of the basics and expect them, in college, to be able to read and learn independently.  My lectures are then spend taking the concepts and applying them differently, in ways which might look like tangents, but might be very relevant.  And this goes double for grad students.

For your labs, I'd consider spending 10 - 15 minutes at the start giving a mini-lecture which outlines the basic concepts being applied and then explains how the lab exercises relate.  Then probably cut down the number of exercises you do.  But I'd also be careful complaining.  Because I don't think you can.  The best people to complain are the students and the fact is that complaints from TAs carry no weight at all.  It becomes a 'he said, she said' situation and you will not come out of it well.

I know it would be extra work, but is there any way you and some of the other TAs could make available a weekly "review session" for the students?  Something unofficial where you could go over the basic material in a less confusing manner?  I had a TA who did this (in response to the professor turning our course into a referendum on his pet sub-specialty instead of the broader course topic) and I learned WAY more from his unofficial review sessions than I did from the professor.  If there are five of you TAs, you could each take one week and that would carry you through the end of the semester.  You might have to clear the idea with the professor or the department chair, and if the students are doing that poorly this might be a valid way to bring it to the department chair's attention without sounding like you're tattling on the professor.


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