TAing and Your Professional Future

Learn more about how teaching experince counts.

Overview

A record of successful teaching has become increasingly important to Ph.D.s seeking their first academic position. Here's how to get that record and document it.

Get your professors' support

Female Caucasion grad student listens thoughtfully in a lecture

Make sure your faculty supervisors are aware that you'll want them to write letters of recommendation that can comment favorably and specifically on your teaching.

Be visible. Your professors can't praise your teaching ability if they never see or hear of it.  Arrange for them to observe, or videorecord your lecture and have the professor watch it.  At the very least, talk about the course and your contributions to it with the professor.  Don't just talk about problems with your students!

Organize

Show evidence of organization and efficiency.  Most TAs approach their initial teaching assignments enthusiastically. They are willing to devote a great deal of time to making their section intellectually stimulating. This kind of enthusiasm makes teaching and learning exciting, but learn to budget your time carefully.  Your future job will probably require a number of obligations besides teaching, and you'll only be able to accomplish them by developing an organized and efficient approach toward your classes.

Realize that your faculty supervisor may not be impressed by the simple fact that you spend a great deal of time on your course or section.  The best way to make a good impression is to show that you can juggle the teaching and your own work. Be as systematic as possible in things like classroom preparation and grading. Keep your outlines, notes, classroom handouts, etc. in proper files and make these files available when the time comes to evaluate your performance.

Be evaluated

Arrange for midterm student evaluations of your teaching and make the most of them. Evaluations can help you improve your teaching. These evaluations will also be used by other people to judge how effective a teacher you are. Many TAs design their own evaluation forms, but a standard form can provide meaningful numerical data for future letters of recommendation. TAs not covered by an end-quarter evaluation system can use VPTL's online mid-quarter teaching survey form as end-quarter an evaluation.

Take advantage of VPTL’s videorecording service to be recorded and meet with a VPTL consultant afterwards for coaching. Once you do this, you can add the recording to your teaching portfolio. An increasing number of institutions request evidence of teaching ability.  Consider being recorded more than once to judge your progress as an instructor and to be able to select an example of your teaching at its best.

Create your Teaching Portfolio

Put together a teaching portfolio, a more comprehensive way of documenting, reflecting on, and strengthening your record as a teacher.

Write Your Teaching Statement

For help in writing your teaching statement, please check VPTL’s workshops, which include a workshop on teaching statements every quarter.  Please also work with BEAM, using their resources for PhDs and Postdocs, including 1:1 assistance with CVs and cover letters.  

Sample teaching statements are also on file at VPTL's Sweet Hall office on the fourth floor.  Just come by during business hours to look at them.  Sorry, you can't check them out.

For help with any kind of writing, including teaching statements, you can get free tutoring at the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking.

How Teaching Experience Counts

If you make the short list at a college or university where you've applied for a position, your teaching may be directly or indirectly tested. You may have to present a traditional job talk or a pedagogical job talk (or both). You may also be asked, in the course of the on-campus interview, to describe in some detail the design of a course that you'd be prepared to teach. In all these cases, already having teaching experience will help you to appear confident. Your publications or dissertation will also be crucial, of course, but search committee members often comment that the job talk is what really distinguishes candidates.

Once you find your first academic position, previous teaching experience will continue to serve you well. New assistant professors are expected to assume and to be successful at multiple roles—teacher, researcher, committee member—quickly. If you already know how to prepare courses, deliver lectures, and lead reviews and discussions, then you will have more time for publishing and university service.

Later, when you go for tenure, the quality of your teaching—together with your research— will again be a major determinant of your success. Increasingly, at universities like Stanford, tenure files must include abundant documentation of effective teaching.

Even if you do not stay in academia, teaching provides valuable experience. Teaching builds self-presentation and interpersonal skills, as well as the intellectual skills needed to understand something well enough to explain, clarify, and apply it. These skills will serve you well in any professional endeavor.

See Also

Preparing for Faculty Careers (takes you to VPGE site)