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UIC TA Handbook - A Professor's Reflections on Teaching

By Elmer H. Burack

Professor, Management
UIC College of Business Administration


Research and teaching experiences are now major hiring considerations for those pursuing teaching careers. Teaching skills are viewed as basic requirements for many types of organizational positions, consulting and research. Thus, although many TAs in past years viewed the position as a way simply to get financial support or as just a job, compelling reasons now exist for TAs to maximize their skill development as they enact the multiple roles of "teacher".

The most basic challenge facing the TA is: "When does teaching equal learning?" Years of educational and learning research have demonstrated convincingly the need to jointly view input (teaching) and student/client outcome (learning).

  • Teaching requires the ability to communicate descriptive and technical material to specialists and non-specialists in both oral and written formats.
  • Teaching also means that you are able to guide the learning of others, assist others struggling with problems, listen thoughtfully, and establish and maintain good inter­ personal relationships.
  • Teaching additionally means evaluating the performance of others.

Great strides in communications and computer technology have increased the emphasis on faculty's role as a learning facilitator. As a result, students will increasingly need assistance in developing their own learning paths and the motivation to pursue them.

Teaching as Art

  • Teaching is an art and craft.
  • Teaching can take place without learning, and learning without teaching.
  • Teaching done well establishes the environment for learning.
  • Teaching provides general and useful guidelines for pursuing learning, but teaching approaches will not "make" people learn.
  • Teaching opens up opportunities for learning and the focus for the teacher is to facilitate that learning.
  • Teaching involves knowledge, skill, and process components.
  • Teaching ranges from transmitting information, culture, values and skills to arranging learning conditions including talks, text, collaborative activities and tests.

TA In-class Expectations: The Early Experience

As teachers, we often approach our first class with considerable anxiety and uncertainty. Even though we have closely observed "good" teacher models, the reins of responsibility and control are now in our hands. I recall that when I first began teaching, I was overly concerned with mechanical issues such as being on time and having enough material to last the session. It wasn't until much later that I learned that the process was much more important than the material as such. That is, it was not the serial order of the material that mattered most, it was the interaction between myself and the students. I later learned to let go of my need to control the class from the podium, and to focus on the students' needs.

None of us likes to appear foolish, and we dread the embarrassment of student questions we can't answer. You may have given a lot of thought to preparing substantive materials, but not given as much thought to the learning process and how activities should unfold. You want to be liked and respected as a new TA but the new role involves, among other things, evaluating students, which can make you feel uneasy. You still have not acquired the experience to know what is capable of being covered in a class period and what comprises "good" and "bad" performance. At times, your classes may start off on the wrong foot, and you may over-assert your teacher authority. The above not withstanding, you will, as I did, get past these early experiences and learn a great deal from them. The "good news" is that there are ways to ease through these early experiences.  For example:

  • Forget you are a student -- your role is now one of teacher. But don't forget what it was like to be a student.
  • Have realistic expectations for the students and be sure to apprise them of these. Students who don't care, and there are always some, can only be encouraged to the extent they allow: "When the student is ready the teacher will appear."
  • Seek out good teaching models and identify the factors making them good teachers. Check out these qualities with seasoned teachers or your mentor.
  • Adopt (a) faculty person(s) to mentor you in your teaching role and help you over the rough spots.
  • Be flexible -- every class is difficult and change has become the rule rather than the exception.
  • Remember, the real benchmark of progress in your teaching is that teaching increasingly equals learning.


McKeachie, W.J. & Associates. (1994). Introduction. Teaching tips: Strategies. research and theory for colleges and university teachers. (9th ed.). Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath.

Platter, W.M. (October, 1994). Future Wot*: Faculty time in the 21st century. Keynote address presented at the Professional and Organization Development Network annual meeting, Portland, OR.

Spence, L.D. (1993). Reflections on teaching and why I do. In D.M. Enerson & K.M. Plank (Eds.). The Penn State teacher: A collection of readings and practical advice for beginning teachers. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University. 6-8.

Svinicki, M. (1994). The teaching assistantship: A preparation for multiple roles. In W. J. McKeachie (Ed.), Teaching tips: Strategies, research and theory for colleges and university teachers. (9th ed.). (pp. 239- 247). Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath.

Wright, W.A. & Hertels, E.M. (1994) The teaching environment. University teaching and learning: An instructional resource guide for teaching assistants at Dalhousie University. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Dalhousie University. 20-22.

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