As a graduate student wanting a career in academia, you need good teaching evaluations for your job application packets.  However, you are often thrust into a classroom to teach without any teaching experience or training.  And when you ask people how to be good at teaching, the answer is usually, “experience”.

This is true.  But as a graduate student who has never taught before, you don’t have that!

This post is about how to be thoughtful about your teaching strategies so that your students learn, like you, and give you great evaluations.

6 tips for getting god teaching evaluations as a graduate student when you have no experience The Academic Society

 

Relate to your students

This is where your experience level is a HUGE asset!  You know, more recently than any professor, how it feels to be a student and how you felt when you took the same course yourself.

Share your experiences with your students.  Explain where you struggled and give them tips on how to succeed in the class.

My students always perk up when I say, “Oh, I remember learning this.  A lot of my classmates (or just me) found it difficult but I’ve come up with a good way to explain it.”  Students love when you are relatable like this.  And it also shows that you care.  And those are the things students mention in teaching evaluations.

Make your students feel comfortable

I always greet my students with a smile.  I also smile throughout the lecture…but that’s just who I am.  And my students always mention it in my teaching evaluations.  They always say that they could tell that I loved the subject (because math is awesome!) and that I was happy to be there.

You can also ask them how they are doing.  Especially before and after class.  Then ask them how they are enjoying the class so far.  If you’ve asked your students what their majors are, you can also incorporate relevant examples throughout your lectures.

I highly recommend a mid-semester survey.  This will tell you how your students really feel.  I like to also ask what they would like to change about class…and actually make some changes.  They love this and will share these things in your teaching evaluations! 

I’ve made a list for you of my mid-semester survey questions for the class that gave me all positive evaluations.  Give them a try and see how they work for you.

Understand Time

Time goes so much slower than you think when you are writing on the board.  One minute to you feels like 30 seconds to your students.  You have to give them time to absorb what you have written.  Even if it feels like you are just standing in silence for an awkwardly long amount of time.

Note:  Nothing you do is too awkward.  The more awkward the better is my opinion (I’m a mathematician…awkward is our default), as long as you don’t take yourself too seriously.  It makes you more approachable to your students.

Another thing.  It’s important to realize that students have a jam packed academic schedule as well as social engagements.  I’m not saying to give them less work.  But try to seem a little sympathetic.

Group work

In class group work is my favorite.  It gives your students a chance to ask each other questions.  It also forces engagement.  When I get to a problem in the notes that takes just a little more thought to come up with a game plan for solving it, I like to break my students up into groups of 2 or 3, give them a starting point, and let them talk it out and work it out together.

Coming up with strategies on their own helps them remember the process so much more than just watching me do it!  If you would like to learn how to get started with group work, try my free 4-day email course, Student Engagement for GTAs.  In this course I show you how to set your class up for group work starting on day one of the semester.

student engagement ecourse for math graduate students The Academic Society

Over-prepare for class

Make sure you have prepared more than enough information, notes, and examples for each class.  Use resources other than the class textbook for alternate examples and explanations.

It’s important to actually work the HW problems that will be assigned.  That way you will know exactly what topics and ways of thinking should be discussed in class.

Check for understanding every 3-5 minutes

It’s so easy to get caught up in beautiful mathematics and then you look up 10 minutes later and your whole class either looks lost or has zoned out!

Not good.  I like to check for understanding at every step.  Here’s what I like to ask:

  • “Does that make sense?”
  • “What should we do next?”
  • “What’s the overall goal of the question?”
  • “If you were working on this problem by yourself, where might you have gotten stuck?”
  • “Any ideas on how we should approach this problem?”
  • “Why?”

If you ask these questions, your students will say that you really cared that they understood the material in your teaching evaluations.

Remember, teaching evaluations aren’t everything and you do want to be genuine when you teach.  So just be yourself and try to remember how it felt to be a student.  How would you want your professor to address the class?

I hope that you enjoyed this post!  If you have any other tips or questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below.  Also, share this post with other graduate students.  There is an image to pin below to save this post for later!

Make sure that you get a copy of my mid-semester survey questions.

6 tips for getting god teaching evaluations as a graduate student when you have no experience The Academic Society

 

So we’ve learned by now that students can only be engaged during a lecture for maybe 20 minutes at a time.  Therefore it’s important to break up your lecture and include some student engagement.

The easiest way to do this is to stop the lecture and ask your students verbal questions like:

  • What’s the next step?
  • Any ideas on how we should approach this problem?
  • Does this idea look familiar?

However, a lot of the time, your students will respond with blank stares.  This just happened to me on the first day of class.  Maybe it was too early in the morning.  Maybe they were intimidated by the math.  It doesn’t matter what there issue was, I still found a way to get them to answer my questions.  Because, like I told my students, I don’t want to stand up and talk for a full 50 minutes by myself!  They need to be involved too!

I’ve come up with 4 tips on how to get your students to answer questions in class.

Get your students to answer your questions in class as a graduate student | The Academic Society | for Math grad students

 

Make your expectations clear on the first day of class

It’s important to set the tone on the first day of class.  If you expect your students to answer your questions throughout the semester, you must ask them questions on the first day.

It doesn’t even have to be deep or related to the subject of the class at all.  Start with low stakes questions.  Let them ask questions about the syllabus.  Ask them about their previous classes from the same subject.  You can even ask what their major is.  I’ve made a list of questions that you can ask your students on the first day of classes.

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I like to start with an icebreaker activity to get them up and out of their seats to meet each other.  I go more in-depth about this icebreaker in my free e-course about implementing group work as a graduate student.  

After setting the foundation of some type of exchange between you and your students, they will have meet me and each other (if you tried my icebreaker) and loosened up a bit.  Now you can ask them any question and they will be less nervous to answer.

Answer every question seriously

It may be annoying to repeat something that you’ve already explained.  But sometimes students miss it.  Maybe they were writing notes or maybe they just spaced out.  But for some reason they missed it.

When this happens, you should answer the question fully and make sure that your students understand.

This shows that you care about them and want to help them as much as you can.  It also shows that you won’t embarrass your students if they answer something incorrectly.

Students really appreciate that!  It has been mentioned many times in my teacher evaluations that I never make my students feel bad for asking questions and that they can tell that I care about them learning.

Remember, teaching evaluations can be a big part of your job applications if you want a job in academia.

Embrace the awkward silence

Because it will happen.  You will ask a question and no one will answer.  When this happens, the best thing you can do is wait.  And after a significant amount of time has passed (30-45 seconds), if you can tell that they do not know the answer, prompt them.

Ask them a leading question.  You know, one that will lead them to the correct answer without giving it away.  A question that will put them on the right train of thought.

When you ask leading questions, you are training your students to think that way so that they can get themselves to answers to a question (when they are working alone) and don’t know where to begin.

Here’s what happened to me on the first day of my precalculus class, even after we had such a great time getting to know each other:

We were learning about the distance formula and started to work this problem.

Find the set of all points that are 4 units away from the point (2, -3).

I plotted the point on a graph so that they could get a visual.  Then I asked, “any ideas on how to get started?”

Silence.

So I asked, “can anyone find one point 4 units away?”

Silence.

So then I chose a random point at least 10 units away and asked, “is this 4 units away?”

Finally, a few people said no.  And then someone said we could add and subtract 4 units from the x and y coordinate.

And then we were well on our way to getting to the answer to that problem.

After we went through all of that my students realized that I would not accept silence as an answer to any of my questions.

Call on students

I don’t really like to put students on the spot to answer questions, especially in a lower level math course because people have real anxieties about math and I don’t want to traumatize them; I want them to love it as much as I do.  At least that’s the goal.

Also, being called on is something I hated as a student and it gave me anxiety!

I like to call on students to ask them how they feel:

  • “How do you feel about this topic?”
  • “Do we need more practice?”
  • “Which part is the most difficult?”
  • “If you were working this on you own, where would you have gotten stuck?”

That last one is my favorite.  It really makes the students look back at the problem to make sure they really understand it.

Extra Tips

Along with those 4 tips, I wanted to give you a few other small things you can do to get your students to answer your questions.

  1. Smile
  2. Look like a nice, approachable person.
  3. Be relatable and tell them about when you learned the topic.

I hope that you enjoyed this post.  Let me know which tips you plan to use in your classroom and please share any other tips you may have in the comments section below.  It could really help other grad students struggling with getting their students to answer their questions.

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Get your students to answer your questions in class as a graduate student | The Academic Society | for Math grad students