Departmental support makes all the difference for new teachers

I identified with a lot of what Sarah Deel discussed in her post. I will be a first time teacher next semester, so I am asking and attempting to answer many of the same questions she did; however, unlike Sarah, I have the full support and mentorship of my department during this process. I am also coming from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, so the emphasis on teaching is slightly greater than in other colleges. Like Sarah, though, I came from a  smaller liberal arts school where teaching was the forefront for most faculty, so the adjustment from that school to Tech has been odd for me. I am grateful for my “academic upbringing” in the liberal arts, as teaching has always been a bigger passion than research for me and because of the school I came from, I am confident in sharing that with faculty in my department.

I have described it before, but after the readings for this week, I am incredibly grateful for my department’s apprenticeship program for GTAs. This semester, I am attending all the classes of, do the grading for and will give two lectures in a section of the course I will teach next semester. I meet with my apprenticeship supervisor each week to process things that happened in the class (things my supervisor felt worked and areas where they felt they could improve)  and to discuss any of my upcoming responsibilities. As I prepare my first guest lecture (in two weeks!) my supervisor shared with me resources they use for content as well as more general teaching resources that I will use in my presentation. I will get feedback from my thesis advisor, my apprenticeship supervisor and another graduate student in my department from one or both of my guest lectures, that can not only go into a teaching portfolio, but will also be helpful in developing my course for the spring.

I had previously been a TA for a professor who is nearing retirement and while they were absolutely great to me, they were less understanding or sympathetic to undergraduate students and their struggles. My apprenticeship mentor’s teaching philosophy is all about increasing and creating opportunities for learning whenever they can. By doing grading for these different professors and their individual standards for accepting student work, I’ve found where my boundaries will be with students. As a student teacher, especially, and maybe during my first few years as a full-on faculty member, I will have more strict guidelines than my mentorship supervisor and will be more flexible than my previous TA supervisor. As I get further into my career and have more time devoted to teaching rather than other bureaucratic responsibilities, these policies may change over time.

Without this apprenticeship program and other opportunities afforded to me by my department, I imagine that I would be much less sure of myself as a future teacher and would spend a significant amount of time agonizing over the questions Sarah asked herself. After reading about her experiences, my appreciation for my department and the faculty’s willingness to share their experiences and resources in teaching has increased ten-fold and I know I have an invaluable network of support.

16 Replies to “Departmental support makes all the difference for new teachers”

  1. I had to click on this post because yesssss, departmental support can make or break your first teaching experience and how you view yourself as a teacher/how you view whether or not you should even be a teacher in the long-term. I wrote about similar support here at Tech in the English department, where you’re required to take a six-credit course and shadow a mentor your first semester—all while not needing (or, better, not even being permitted) to teach and also still being funded. We’re not punished for not yet having the skills, but rather encouraged in our pursuit of training to be more effective educators. I’m happy to read that you’re receiving similar training, including being given hands-on experiences that will boost your comfort in teaching next semester. With hopes, this preparation will make you more eager than nervous to get in there and have more autonomy over the direction of your own class.

    AlsoAlsoAlso, good luck giving your lecture!!:)

    1. Hi Leslie,

      Thanks so much for this comment and your support!

      Your program’s training for teachers seems more rigorous and defined than mine! In all the discussions we’ve been having about grading and motivation, I actually appreciate that your department provides you with a structured course to take (is it somewhat similar to GEDI course we’re in now?) as you work through your identity as an educator. I am paid as a TA for the semester and preparing my guest lectures, etc. are kind of a bonus opportunity, but it sometimes feels like a lot on my plate!


  2. Interesting post about how the logistical context can influence how we develop our teaching style/philosophy. Given all of this structure and support, I am curious about how much freedom you feel you will have to develop your course in a way that aligns with your personal teaching style.

    1. Hi Heath!

      I definitely think logistics plays a part in our development as teachers, not only in the support we receive, but also in the resources to which we have access (both internal and external, i.e., time and energy constraints as well as trainings and prepared lectures).

      I will say that I kind of appreciate the scaffolded nature of my department’s teaching program. I will have to use the book selected by my course coordinator and I am required to have two exams (midterm and final), that I might not choose once I am an independent professor, but I think that having these requirements gives me some structure around which I can build my course.


  3. The way your department helps graduate students learn how to teach sounds phenomenal! I wish my department had a similar program. Instead, teaching in my department is typically looked at as a distraction from everything, especially since most teaching opportunities are just GTAs where you hold office hours and grade. You can teach, but you have to specifically ask for it, and my impression is that you’re just given the old materials from previous semesters and more or less told, “Go do it.” Personally, I wanted much more guidance in my first teaching experience, so I actually went back to my undergraduate institution– which is also a liberal arts school– and asked for an opportunity to co-teach with one of their faculty. They luckily agreed to the idea, so I was able to get a lot more guidance and advice throughout the summer. I feel way more confident now in my own teaching abilities than I think I would have otherwise… I wish this kind of “teaching mentorship” (whether through the program you describe or something more like what I experienced) was more common to help up and coming faculty at least find their feet, if not start working towards developing their authentic teaching self.

    1. I agree, Michelle & Diana!
      I loved hearing about how your department supports graduate students as emerging faculty. I would love to hear more about the “apprenticeship supervisor” and what that relationship looks like. I am curious about what teaching resources you are looking at and if you would be willing/able? to share with the rest of us?

      1. Hi Sarah,

        I would definitely be willing (and maybe Leslie, too) to share more about what this program looks like in my department, whether that be in a separate blog or during class time.

        As far as resources, some are specific to my department (prepared lectures/powerpoint presentations), but my apprenticeship supervisor recommended I check out the Stanford Teaching Commons resources ( which have been helpful as I plan my first lecture!


    2. Hi Michelle,

      I think it is great that you took the initiative and created that teaching opportunity for yourself!

      I would like to think we’re moving toward a culture emphasizing teaching (similar to what is happening with the value of K-12 teachers in this country), but it seems like institutions of higher education are admitting more undergraduate students for financial means rather than investing in their education. Maybe our generation will make the shift to a teacher/teacher-training focus!


  4. Hey Diana,
    I had know idea that any department put so much emphasis on preparing their GTAs to teach. I really enjoyed learning about your department’s mentorship program. I wish my department took a similar approach for the graduate students that are interested in becoming future faculty. Thank you for sharing, this is great!

    1. Hi Kristen,

      What department are you in? Does your department allow Graduate students to be TAs/IORs but without preparation?

      I am always curious to see how things work in other departments.


  5. Thanks for your post and I agree with you! Departmental support seems key to striving as a teacher and I am a bit jealous because I think in Engineering we are much more research driven and much much less teaching focused. Most students in my lab may guest lecture once or twice but few teach their own course and even then its in your last semester so you never really get to iterate on the same idea. I am interested in your relationship with your apprenticeship teacher because this seems to be incredibly helpful for feedback.

    1. Hi Ishi,

      It’s definitely one of the strengths of my program! I think different fields have different foci, specifically looking at ways they receive funding, which makes sense in one respect but sometimes doesn’t consider the best practices for continuing growth in the field or the needs of graduate students and others coming up within the field.

      Hopefully, we see a shift toward emphasizing and allocating resources toward teaching in all fields!

      My apprenticeship supervisor has been great so far. My department coordinator tries to pair students/supervisors not only based on courses/content but also personality/style. This week, my supervisor and I will meet to review my lecture for next week and he might make suggestions of ways to adjust the presentation to meet the needs of the class and encourage students’ participation, etc.


  6. Loved reading your post, Diana! I, too, came from a small liberal arts college and found similar struggles in adjusting my expectations regarding the role of teaching at a school like Virginia Tech. I am so happy to hear of all the great preparation you received within your department! I had a similar impression with being a TA as well — I, too, felt that the Instructor of Record I worked with was stricter with students than I want to be, as I find my “authentic teaching self.” I am so excited for you as you start teaching!

    1. Hi Savannah,

      Thanks so much for your comment and support!

      I am really grateful to have come from a liberal arts focused school, as I think my priorities and goals would be much less defined and more overwhelming if I had gone to a big research university for undergrad! At the smaller school, I was able to form closer relationships with the faculty and really get a sense of what I wanted to do based on what I saw them doing. At Tech, it seems harder for undergrads to make those connections.


  7. Thanks a lot for sharing your experience. It’s interesting that your department guides the TAs through different steps in advance so they become well-prepared for being an instructor. Good luck with your teaching experience next semester! We also have the same program in our department that allows PhD students to teach an undergraduate course, which is definitely helpful for those who want to pursue a teaching career.

  8. I definitely empathize with your thoughts about how sometimes older professors can seem less empathetic to the struggles of undergraduate students! I am a TA for a large lecture class, and I find myself wanting to respond to panicked emails with kindness. I also agree that department support is HUGE- before I ever taught my first solo class, I had a week-long training with my department and always felt supported. I’m glad you have a great support system, and I’m sure you’ll rock it!

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