The Student Becomes the Teacher

In the increasingly competitive higher education environment, the University Center for Teaching and Learning (The Teaching Center) is dedicated to helping graduate students develop the strong teaching skills essential for their success in the classroom, and beyond. Through its Graduate Student Teaching Initiative, the Teaching Center offers workshops, programs, guides, and even new credentials that graduate students can utilize to build a solid foundation for their current responsibilities and future careers.

Offered twice a year, the New Teaching Assistant Orientation provides new teaching assistants (TAs) with practical skills and also familiarizes them with University policies and resources. Workshop topics include introductions to the technology resources available to TAs, how to prevent and monitor cheating and plagiarism, and how to handle difficult situations and distressed students. The most recent orientation, held in the fall of 2017, included more than 160 participants from departments across the University. Based on feedback from previous orientations, this orientation reflected an update which allowed more time for TAs to interact and share perspectives and to form connections with their fellow graduate students.

The newly launched Achievement in Pedagogy badge allows graduate students to earn a credential after attending a series of workshops and submitting corresponding assignments, so that when academic jobs or grant listing ask for “evidence of teaching excellence,” they have something  specific they can share. “These programs offer graduate students a way to not only sharpen their professional skills, but demonstrate to future employers and grantors the full breadth of the skills they developed at the University of Pittsburgh,” said Cynthia Golden, Director of the Teaching Center. 

For those independent instructors and those planning to make a career of University teaching, the Teaching Center also offers the University Teaching Practicum, a three-credit graduate seminar, every semester. New instructors are encouraged to share concerns and experiences through class discussions, while assignments encourage graduate student instructors to create and improve classroom materials including syllabi, student assignments, and lesson plans.

Beyond the formal and structured training programs, the Teaching Center offers a variety of resources for graduate students. The TA handbook, and reference materials from sample lessons plans to tips for leading successful class discussions and using PowerPoint effectively, are all available on the Teaching Center Web site. Teaching consultants are available to graduate students one-on-one to discuss specific topics—from designing assignments, to managing challenges that come up in a classroom, to compiling and getting feedback on a teaching portfolio.  In addition, graduate students can sign up for all of the workshops that the Teaching Center offers, depending on specific interest and availability. 

With a wealth of information and support, the Teaching Center offers graduate students a place to hone their skills. Nathan Urban, Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Strategic Initiatives, observes, “The Teaching Center uniquely provides opportunities for our graduate students to develop and practice professional skills, such as communicating to audiences and leading difficult discussions. Learning these skills will help our students succeed in their future professions, of any nature, long after they leave the University.”