Being a Postgraduate Teaching Assistant
In this episode of R, D and the Inbetweens PGRs Belinda (Dan) Li and Irene Gomez talk to other PGRs about being a Postgraduate Teaching Assistant. This epsiode contains interviews with:
Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
Hello, and welcome to rd in the in betweens. I'm your host Kelly Preece. And every fortnight I talk to a different guest about researchers development, and everything in between.
Hello, and welcome to the latest episode rd and the in betweens. I'm your host, Kelly Preece. And for now on rd in the in betweens is going to be taking a slight change, of course, and the reason for this is that I have started a new job. I was in a researcher development team and my job was to support our postgraduate researchers with their training and development. But I've just moved to join our academic development team doesn't sound that different. And in reality, I suppose it isn't. But I'm working on the other side of things. Now I'm working to develop and deliver doctoral supervision training. So I'm helping our supervisors become even more excellent in the support of our postgraduate researchers. So as such, the content of R D and the in betweens might be a little bit different and might be a little bit more teaching focused, a little bit more supervision focused, but it will fundamentally still be about researchers, their development and everything in between. So for this first episode, I've actually got a guest episode from two PGRs, Belinda L, and Irene Gomez, and they ran a project in the summer, talking to our postgraduate teaching assistants about their experiences
Welcome to our PTA podcast, aiming to improve your experiences. We are a group of PTAs from a range of courses and backgrounds with various different experiences. We have been working on a project this summer to share inspirational PTA experiences and top tips. We hope this will help both incoming and current PTAs have the best experience possible.
Lu Yang is a second year PhD student in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, she teaches speaking seminars for intermediate Chinese. My first tip is don't be afraid of your students, because if you are afraid, they will find it. The second is pay more attention to those shy students and those that are not catching the lessons because they need more attention and need more help. My top tip is about to take your classmates (and) your student as your friends because we are most near the same age and we are all at the state of learning things. If we just take them as friends, it will release your stress and they will also feel relaxed to talk about your lesson and the content. My teaching style is more friendly and because my lesson is about the oral speaking. So, I think a friendly atmosphere will make them more encouraged to like practice and rather than worrying about any potential mistakes. My lesson is about the Chinese oral speaking. So to prepare my lesson and I usually split the whole lesson for like three parts. The first part is mainly designed by the textbook, questions on the textbook. And the second part usually combined events happened recently, or like holidays, Chinese holidays. I will design some key words about it. And the third part would be like open questions around the lesson they learned on the textbook. And I usually prepare for around an hour. But if I need to search some online videos about the lesson, it will take about two hours. I am a film student, so I tried to add some film cuts and some short videos in the class. And I always like to try to encourage them to talk more and don't worry about the mistakes. So, I think it will make a relaxed class.
Lisanne Moliné is an American filmmaker and a PhD researcher. She trained at SUNY Purchase in New York and she holds a Master's in international film business from the London Film School from University of Exeter. She is currently finishing her PhD in Film by Practice and her research is centered around transmedia.
Thank you so much for joining me in this interview. So Lisanne what would be the three top tips you would give to an incoming PTA
Thank you, Irene for having me.
The PTA scheme was is a great experience. And some of the key points that I found were at the forefront of my whole experience was three particular points, I think would anyone coming into the program would be fixated on thinking about it. And that would be: Diversity and preparation, accessible learning and transferable skills. So what I found, one of the helpful things to do from the very beginning is to journal your experiences. So I actually pulled out my week one, one page notes on my experience of how it went. And week two, and I'll read a little bit for you. So you get an idea of what it was like for me when I came into the program teaching and how these three topics really ended up galvanizing in and helping me through this journey. So, week one, and I put it first term of teaching diary. So this is what I said to myself, I was quite nervous to have to go at it alone. Despite going through the UK shadow scheme, I wasn't so much concerned about the students, though being able to academically engaged with them was on my mind, especially with the cultural differences. I was worried about University politics. Not to say or do the wrong thing. Having come from a conservatory with hands on practical training. I didn't want to cross the line in how Uni wanted and intended the seminar modules to be delivered. A bit of walking on eggshells for me. I made the cliché blunders of dropping all my handouts on the floor. But recovered The two classes were sweet. yet different. The first class was mostly writers very much keen on the creative takeaways. In contrast, the other class was mostly taking the seminar because it was interesting. I did have a few students tell me they enjoyed the seminar, one following me out the door. I think it was a good sign. So that was my first week. And what I found and when I was speaking about the university politics and different cultures is that we all come with our unique experiences and of what education looks like. And the students also are very diverse coming into the seminar classes and the lectures with certain expectation expectations. Trying to balance those experiences that are unique that you're bringing to the table. And at the same time, not overstepping or not delivering on the expectations others are anticipating is, is a, it's a bit of a juggle. But what I found was going to the first topic of importance was diversity in preparation really helped me to close that gap. Look at what the syllabus is and what was going to be covered. But read the material, read all of the material that the students are expected to be preparing, and it's a lot it really is, you're going to see that you're going to have empathy for the students. Because you're, you're preparing for one module, but they have several. And the other thing too, is that by understanding what the handouts are, and the materials are, that are being presented and covered, then you're going to be able to extract information to be able to communicate with those students and pivot more on a dime in the in the classroom setting. The other thing I did was I attended lectures that again, depending on how much time you have, I made it a point to attend the lecture so that not only am I informed on the material, but the students are actually seeing me there. And I found it a very nurturing experience, and I recommend it to anyone that has an opportunity to do it. I would definitely do it again for sure.
Umas Jin has recently graduated from his PhD study, which was on Virginia Woolf and neuro psychology. He has years of his teaching and research experience in the higher education sectors, both in Taiwan and the UK. He is currently working on his publication of his doctoral thesis and seeking a research post. The only tip I would give to new PTAs is enjoyment. Try to enjoy yourself. And when you're preparing for the course, to learn it like as if you were a student, to prepare it as if you are the module leader. Right. I really don't have that many tips about developing teaching style for new PTA. But one thing I had to say is that when we are teaching, we are learning. We are still students, postgraduate students, which means we are still learning. Well, everyone is a student anyway. We learn, we teach, and we teach, and we learn. So, I think rather than think that you have to know everything, think about you're learning things with your students. So yeah, so I just think we come in enjoying the courses, try to enjoy the course as they do. And relax, and enjoy teaching, and you're inspiring the next generation. And then in the future, they will thank you for anything you told him in the course, in a seminar. I will watch the recorded lecture before I prepare for the seminar. And I will check the teaching materials on ELE. And it will benefit me from understanding the course and the content. Well, I actually don't know how I develop my teaching style as a PTA. I just thought that it will be nice to think about incorporating the teaching materials within our life. One from a literature background, literature inspired by the author’s life, so a lot of literary texts and theories, they are actually closely linked to the author's life or the philosophers’ life. So, I thought it would be nice to help and encourage my students to think about how they combine their academic aspect of life with their personal life. And then so that they can feel related to the contents, and they can feel comfortable to talk about some sensitive topics that are related to the teaching materials. So, I think that is how I got my inspiration for my teaching style. As I said earlier, I will not spend that much time on preparing for a PTA job. And I will definitely expand my research to the PTA role content. And again, enjoy while you can prepare for the course.
So I'm Riadh Ghemmour. I hold a PhD in education. So basically, I'm based at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Exeter. And my research interests are critical pedagogy, decolonization, social justice, education, anti-racism, and everything related to EDI (inclusivity, diversity and inclusion). And I'm a postgraduate teaching associate as well, based at GSE. I work part time at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, which is half University, which is part of the University of London, but also, it's a Conservatoire. And my role really is about overseeing the international students experience in terms of learning development. So, I’m the international students learning skills coordinator, where I work with international students, I have one to one sessions with them, group discussions. I do facilitate also like academic and learning sessions with them in terms of preparing for visitations, academic writing, critical thinking and so on. So, it's been a fun experience so far.
Thank you very much for your sharing. I know you're one of the first PTAs at the Graduate School of Education. Would you like to share your experience about that? And do you have any suggestions for the coming PTAs?
Yeah, that's true actually. I'm one of the first cohort of GSE PTAs. And it's such a privilege to be part of a brilliant team of other PTAs, colleagues, staff, and so on. I think, at the start, nobody knew because it was our first attempt our first trial to test, experiment and make mistakes. I think, at first, nobody knew what was going on, what we were supposed to do, and stuff like that. But I think, the overall experience has been really productive and fruitful. I think what really made this experience fantastic is the collaboration, the willingness to work together, the willingness to receive constructive criticism, feedback and act upon that feedback from, you know, from our line manager, for example. And I think we found that platform where we acted upon our agency as PTAs, we used our lived experiences as students, but also PhD candidates. We use our lived experience as educators and teachers because we taught before. We made use of our research interests to shape the whole GSE provision and practice. So really, overall, I think, working closely with staff and students has been fantastic really. And I really enjoyed working with them, but also developing my skills in terms of holding spaces for students, co facilitating sessions with another PTA. So, there is a lot of like teamwork, and, you know, and so on. So, it was a really great experience.
Thank you very much for your sharing. It sounds like a meaningful experience indeed. Would you like to probably give some useful suggestions or your experience sharing when it comes to, you know, the new PTAs not knowing what to do when they first start the role?
I've got a couple of suggestions. I think the first suggestion is really to ask questions when you don't know when you feel confused. I think a lot of people obviously do not expect you to do the whole work. So do ask questions if you don't know how to do it, or who to go to to ask questions and so on. I think right from the start, do ask your line managers, previous PTAs, like any questions related to the job into the role. I think that's the first suggestion. And the second suggestion is really be part of the community. Don't work on your own. Create relationships with other PTAs, with colleagues. Expose yourself as well. Work in teams as well. Collaborate, listen to and understand other perspectives. Obviously, like, do suggest your own ideas, your own perceptions, find compromises. Really like just put yourself out there. I think that collaborative aspect is really crucial to make the work impactful and meaningful, not only for PTAs and staff, but also for students and the whole GSE community.
Today we interviewing Dr. Chris Grosvenor. Chris is a former PT and a newly appointed Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Exeter. He has recently published a book based on his PhD research, which examines the importance of cinema in the frontline during World War One.
Hi, Chris, thank you for joining us. So how was your experience as a PTA? I know you did it for a few years.
Yes, so I started on the PTA program around 2016. So quite a while ago now, but I shadowed one of my former teachers, strangely enough in film studies. And I shadowed her for a term on that PTA program. And then ended up teaching a seminar in the final week of term. Alongside that I was completing all of the LTHE requirements and workshops and exercises and coursework on that side of things. But definitely the most informative, the most fun, I guess was actually being in that classroom setting with the person I was shadowing and learning.
So for an incoming PTA what tips would you give to them?
So for anyone joining or coming into the PTA program, I think my general advice would be to get stuck in be prepared to you know, do a good bit of prep and research and reading around the course or module that you are shadowing, you may not be the one teaching it every week, you may just be watching someone else teach it to seminars you to teach it on a lecture but you know, making sure that you're as sort of intellectually engaged as your students and you can learn from them as much as possible as well as the teaching what's working well what doesn't work. When other students are engaged, when are they perhaps not as engaged. So yeah, get stuck in with the module content, of course content. I think, learn as much as you can from the tutor that you're shadowing but realize as well, that they may have a particular approach that doesn't necessarily gel with your own ideas for teaching. You know, there are all sorts of ways to go about teaching a subject and no two ways the same. And just because you watch or see your tutor set about teaching a task or communicating to their students in a certain way, doesn't necessarily mean that that's the best way for you. So prepare to you know, think outside the boxes a bit and don't take that tutors approach as gospel, you know, bring your own spin on it. Be prepared to sort of offer a different take or a different type of approach. What other tips? I think being able to, or being prepared, I should say, to teach beyond your comfort zone as it was whether that's the comfort zone of your current research or your own sort of backgrounds in whatever field of study you have, you've had experience in chances are when you first start teaching, you'll be put on a module or a course that is actually quite removed from what your own research interests might be. So be prepared for that. And don't be scared by that. I think in many ways being able to teach beyond your own sort of specialism as scary as it might sound, gives you the best sort of standing as an early career teacher, you know, being able to cover a larger remit of topics and subjects and shows that you have a kind good all round knowledge and experience as a teacher. And the other tip I'd say is just make sure that your doctoral research or you know, your day job as it were doesn't get overshadowed by your PTA role, obviously, you know, you need to be making sure you have the time to commit to any PTA placements or teaching experiences that you can. But the day job as it were, the doctoral research should be the priority. And that should that should always be the case, if you find that you're spending more time with the PTA material or that more is being asked of you, you know, you are perfectly within your rights to say,No, I'm not sure I can take on that third module or third seminar group, right, this second. I'm comfortable with one, I'm comfortable with two. And don't let that sort of dictate effectively what should always be your main focus even if the teaching element does sound exciting, and something you do want to get engaged with which obviously, obviously, you can just don't let it roll, roll everything I guess.
Thank you so much for all your tips and sharing your experience with us. We really appreciate it.
Thank you for listening to our podcast. We really hope you enjoyed it. We hope you also enjoy the rest of our episodes, and good luck with your PTA work.
And that's it for this episode. Don't forget to like, rate and subscribe. And join me next time where I'll be talking to somebody else about researchers development and everything in between.
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