Difficult Teaching Situations Spring 2012

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Certificate in University Teaching and Learning for Graduate Students - Spring 2012

Difficult Teaching Situations

1. class debates too political or philosophical - therefore tensions

Call a pause or call the end of the discussion for a second. Draw their attention to what is happening and study the fact of passion. Bring up objectivity and how by using this tool at our disposal we can all get to the root of what is going on... whether the root be the truth, a misunderstanding, a misconception, or the point of disagreement. -Melissa

2. aggressive students - accused the marker as the cause

If the arguement is over marking/fairness of marking, one technique is to offer students the option of having the test/pertinent sections of the test remarked by a different TA/marker.  This goes with the agreement that this second mark is final, even if it is worse than the current mark.  It is also worth making it clear to students that having their exam scrutinized by a TA who is not overloaded with other exams may mean that the marking will be tougher or that the TA may catch mistakes that were missed the first time around (as this often the case).  If the student truly feels they were unfairly marked they'll take the option, if they are just mark-fishing they won't. - Anna

3. comments that are bigetted, disccriminatory or misgonist

4. catching someone looking over the sholder in exam - not sure if it's happening

I give students many chances. If I see them doing it once for sure I stare at them and make eye contact, sometimes shake my head. If I see them twice for sure I ask them to move to the front of the class. If after that I see them do it again I bring it to the attention of my professor. If I were alone I might take their test and tell them they're getting a zero on the assignment. I wouldn't personally bring in the higher-ups unless it was a habitual issue. - Melissa

5. TA challenges the teacher's explanations

Make a brief compliment (something along the lines of: great that you're so engaged/ following the lecture closely), then ask the TA -  in the interest of time - to discuss this with you after class. If it is a contentious topic you could say something along the lines of that there are different views on this out there. To avoid this situation in the future you could send the material out beforehand and ask the TAs to contact you before lecture if they have any questions or concerns about the material.

6. moderator too polically correct for good arguments to be presented

7. marking bias, sqeeky wheel gets greese - how to pprevent bias

8. As a TQA, working with instructor with differnt teahcing style

9. student with difficult personal cercumstaces as excuse for late assignemnts - no doctors note

10.intructor away, not adequately help student swith problem.

Set ground-rules: I have heard of many TAs - myself included - who have been forced into dealing with student issues that may be more appropriately handled by the course instructor. This may be due to some unforeseen circumstances that force the TA into covering some of the instructors duties, but in other cases it may be down to miscommunication or misunderstanding. To mitigate this issue, the TA and instructor should agree on some ground rules prior to the start of the course. So for example, a rule could be that the instructor is to deal with any student complaints regarding marking or grades. Thus, if a student has a grades-related complaint they will be deferred to the instructor, not bounced around between the two because both don't want to deal with the complaint. Having a clear idea of responsibilities is a must. - Jon

Class Discussion: In cases where the instructor is away or unavailable and students pose questions the TA is unable to answer (e.g., complex answer, outside of TAs knowledge depth, multiple possible answers) this presents a good opportunity for discussion. Either through online discussion forums or in class, TAs can share the question, give their thoughts, and open the floor for discussion. This provides students an opportunity to share what they know, as well as to involve their critical thinking skills. However, it should be noted that this solution is time dependent, and not applicable in certain more time constrained situations (e.g., the day before a midterm). - Sarah-Patricia

Seek consulation – when faced with difficult situations with superiors it is often helpful to get advice from others. There are both formal and informal routes to do so. Informal routes might include talking to more senior students or to students who have previously TAed for this instructor to see how they dealt with the issue. While the students may not have addressed the problem head on they may have tricks to get around it. Another informal route is to ask for advice from your supervisor (assuming they are not the instructor ;). More formal routes include graduate advisors and the Teaching Support Staff Union, however these are best used as last resorts, for instance when the teacher’s absence means that you are left to teach the course (I have actually seen this happen). Finally, if you are concerned about stating names in these situations you can always try to make the situations anonymous or hypothetical, although this can be difficult when others are relatively familiar with your situation. - Jen

11. student(s) dominates disrespectfully.

- If the student is truly being an ass, than rather than try and shut them down I instead might engage them and let them hoist themself on their own petard. If it's an ongoing issue then it may require a one-on-one conversation with the individual. Other techniques to strike a better balance include explicitly stating that we are going to hear from someone who hasn't yet spoken or diffusing the offenders into small group work. Of course, setting ground-rules up front is important here. Ideally, these should be developed by the entire group -- that way you've got "buy-in." - Greg

- This is an interesting situation.  A student disrespectfully dominating a class, tutorial, or workshop.  With my experience as a workshop facilitator at teacher professional development workshops, participant engagement ranged from participatory to antagonistic or defiant.  This does not make the teaching situation easy, particularly when you are working with a group of adults who are your peers.  In a high school classroom, my philosophy was "if you treat me with disrespect, you will be treated with disrepect."  This is also known as the "Golden Rule."  The students' behaviour should be acknowledged, not ignored.  I would either take one of two approaches, depending on the situation.  First option, I would be to stop the class and wait for the situation to cease.  I may ask the student(s) for the "bottom line" so that the class can proceed.  A second option, I would redirect the lecture/lesson to disengage the student or ask him/her/them to see me after class to discuss further.  It takes courage and confidence to address student behaviour.  In the end, it's about establishing "the tone" for everyone in the class. - Christine

- - This can be a challenge, and I often find it to arise out of two situations: a) A student is particularly entitled/privileged and is unaware (or unconcerned) that their dominance has the effect of silencing other students, or b) A highly engaged but very shy or nervous student consistently over-talks - almost being afraid of silence or inevitable response.
Since the courses I have taught generally have a significant degree of conversation over controversial issues, I try to address this at the outset by establishing a mutually agreed on 'code of conduct' with students. There are lost of different suggestions for how to go about this, but my approach is derived from a favorite prof that I used to TA with.
At the beginning of the course, students write down one thing they feel would encourage participation and engagement, and one thing that should be avoided because it shuts down participation and engagement. I then synthesize their suggestions and that becomes the course code of conduct. Doing this doesn't mean that students never try to dominate the conversation, but it does considerably lesson the incidence and makes it easier to manage when such issues do arise. Because it has been initiated from them and their classmates, students are pretty amenable to following the 'code', and its fairly easy to interject on occasion (privately to an individual, or to the class as a whole, according to context) to remind students of the importance of the code of conduct, or particular aspects of it.
I've done this most recently in a class of roughly 350, and it seems to be working out so far, so you can adapt it to large or small classes... - Amie
- I like this idea - I think this approach would also be valuable for a TA working on this course. I know it would have been very valuable for me to have worked with the instructor to have this ready for tutorials - maintaining the same rules in both lecture and small classroom. I know another strategy that I have seen used is a sort of playing card system where students have a few talking cards that they can use throughout the disussion and essentially, once they have used those cards, they have reached their contribution for that day. In some upper-level courses I have also heard of students taking turns moderating discussions. In this type of set-up, you could go over the types of things that moderators have to take into account, and maybe the particular student may realise when he/she is moderating what actions he/she is doing to disrupt the discussion normally. - Jess

12 student lack of open mind, firm belief

- I've had this happen a lot when I teach human origins. Either they are convinced that the textbook is making fun of their religion, or the are totally sure that Eastern Asian humans originated in China not Africa, or they don't understand why they can't belittle someone as "wrong" if they don't believe in evolution (all true stories). I'll often try to get some one on one time during office hours and walk them through a critical thinking excersise and address all of their concerns or beliefs with dignity and respect. I often try to accomplish this by being a gentle 'devil's advocate'. "The book is disrespectful to your beliefs? Could you show me the passages that you're thinking of?" Then go from there with, "what about---" and "how would you have written this?" etc. Once I completely agreed with them that the book was being quite flippant and I promised them that I would request the book not be required again to the department. The student felt much more at ease and was more open in the future after this. If things really come to a head, I remind them that they don't have to agree with what we're teaching, but they WILL be tested on it. - Melissa


13. parents challenge the grade

- I haven't had this happen myself, but I have heard of more than one instance. I think my response would be to sit down with Mom and Dad and have a serious chat about how little Johnny's all grown up now and it's frankly none of their business WHAT grade he gets. - Greg

- As a high school teacher, most parents either supported my evaluation or inquired how their son/daughter could improve his/her grade.  Only a handful of times have I been asked to change the grade for a student and only once have I been asked to change a letter grade two years after the fact.  I am new to the higher education learning/teaching environment, yet I would not be surprised if there were parents who would advocate for their son/daughter achievement if they had felt it was unjustified.  With that said, clear boundaries need to be set by the instructor.  When decisions are made, particularly with grading, the responsiblity is with the instructor.  In my high school teaching experience, I did not change any letter grade or percentages after they have been submitted.  Certainly, time was spent discussing the grade and how the son/daughter was evaluated with parents, but I never changed grades.  That change would have been in the hands of the administrator. - Christine


 14. instructor/TA animosity - competition

15. students come in for help after failing midterm - too late. - annonomous

Ask them what the did to study, suggest other ideas (I often tell students if they aren't sure what's important in the book, look at the table of contents. If the word is listed as a subheading in a chapter they better know what it means). If many students need help, consider encouraging them all together for their own study group. Invite them to come in to your office hours every week. -Melissa

16. in workshop, students take content personally - esp. teacher professional devleopment

17.lack confidence, a lit disorganized, subject newish, worried, students not connecting

I think students are usually very forgiving for the first few classes in a course.  If you are clearly making an effort and have told the class that this is your first time teaching this content, I don't think you will be judged harshly as long as the disorganization doesn't continue for the whole semester.  If the teacher is setting higher standards for the students than they are meeting themselves or if students are under a lot of pressure to get a good grade (i.e. its a prerequisite course) and the disorganization means that they are not meeting the learning outcomes - then you have a problem.  In terms of confidence: overly-confident teachers who are also poor instructors are usually more difficult for students to learn with than those who are aware of their (current) limitations (if you know your not good at something you can learn to improve!).  Its worth reminding yourself before each class that you are the course content expert in the room and have more educational experience than 99% of your students: you can feel a certain amount of confidence for those reasons alone. - Anna

I like Anna's comments here - when you're just starting out, it's easy to forget that you have been selected to teach that subject for a reason, and you are likely to have a great deal more educational experience than those who are there to learn from you. Taking a deep breath or two before walking into the room to get started can really give you a moment to calm yourself and feel ready when you're nervous. I find that writing the agenda on the whiteboard at the beginning of class helps to get the students (and yourself!) focused on the activities that will be taking place. I start to feel a disconnection if I've been talking too long - usually I'm in a lab with about 24 students rather than a lecture hall, so I find that the more I can keep the session participatory, the more I can keep the students engaged. Instead of stating the concepts in a boring monologue, I try to reword them into partial questions, and look for responses from the class. Even better, try to find ways to get the students to share what they already know about the subject matter, which can be a good icebreaking exercise near the beginning of the semester. This helps you to gauge the diverse levels of knowledge they have coming into the class, helps them to get to know each other better - which can foster a welcoming learning environment - and also can help you to see that you really do understand the subject at a level that they are striving towards, and you have a lot to share in order to help them on that path. - Natalie

18. studnet not happy with instruction from teacher - student said not helpful

19. in lecture hall, sharing too personal information, and wanting help - in front of audience.

20.unorganize students, misses assignments, blames the course

21. cheating - didn't hand in exam, claimed teacher lost it.

22. avoiding atmosphere of polarized discussions.

23.As TA have proof of cheating, but teacher doesn't respond/care

24. Getting TAs to attend the lecture

25.admin won't support you when obvious plagerism

26. balancing support and engagement, but also having boundaries

27. students agressive re. fighting for marks

28. low particiapntion in manditory class

29. blank faces - ??

'- '- I think the first step here is just to identify the problem. It may be as simple as needing to get everyone to stand up and stretch or jump around for a minute or two, or maybe the lesson is outside the students 'zone of proximal development' (unchallenging or too advanced material).
In a large class, I might encourage students to turn to the person next to them and discuss the concept/topic that is being covered in the lecture. Encourage them to come up with questions they might have about the topic. When you bring the class back to order, ask them what they came up with. Usually, because they have just been engaging in discussion about it, and the questions are mutually developed, students are more willing to engage (the more intimate discussions 'carry over' to promote a classroom discussion). This gives you the opportunity to check their learning in terms of level of understanding, and clarify or move on as necessary. - Amie
- I like the idea of a little stretch break - espeically with some of the longer classes. I think that people are often able to focus a lot better afterwards. As a student, I really appreciated when my TA/instructor was honest with the class and said that they were seeing some blank faces. I think that this shows that they are respectful and perceptive to their audience and wanting to do better! Often I found when they mentioned this and posed an open ended question about what was confusing that students would respond and explain what aspects were difficult/confusing, or where they got lost. - Jess

30. lack of TA contact with students

31.male student intimidataing female professors

32. emotional students doing well otherwise

33. differentiate between teaching, learning and politics, when in fact all influence each other

So there'are three things that need to be discerned over here. Teaching, Politics and then the learning.

In Pakistan as well as i am sure in India and other underdeveloped and developing countries students and the teachers are the backbone of the politics. Politicians exploit the students and the teaching community for their personal gains and each political party has a vote bank and student wing in every college and university in Pakistan . At times and actually most of the times violence erupts due to conflict of interests between rival groups of students representing different political parties and at times with serious collateral damage .How i would deal with such a most of the times conflict situation . Well ! i had my safe ways of dealing with it and i have survived and i am alive unlike those who died.

The key words that i would use would beYes, i agree with you but i have a confusion about your opinion and i was wondering if you could convince me or persuade me then i am all yours.

This was just to explain the background of this question asked .

After getting over here , i have observed that politics do exist in different quarters of the universities be it a learning community or a teaching one.

I dont know why i find this topic a sensitive one and this is  being said by someone(me) with a very sensitive mind about rights . But  the reason why i think its a sensitive topic  is because i  am just an international student with no proper status and  i am somebody who is volunteering for an international human rights organisation as an international and country coordinator who would really like to be open , honest and bold about it.Having said that i think its important.

So, the reason why i think and i have observed that we do know that the politics influence the teaching and learning and the interaction of the teaching and students is because of the concept of conflicts of interest i guess.

Examples would be a scenario where one student talks and discusses something with  for example me about some instructor and then goes on to convey that in a very negative manner to bias or prejudice his opinion about me?

I think its turning into a kind of reflection and it can be resolved in a teaching and academic environment like the over here which is in countries like canada and then in BC  as it is the country and province of values and rights but its just about first diagnosing the problem and then proving or establishing an evidence to support the diagnosis and then management of the disease or problem which is in this case politics influencing the teaching and learning and the interaction of the learner and the teacher in a very negative manner." I guess thats how the strategy would be if we are to solve this problem if at all  we do  agree that its a problem.

I know i am not getting straight  to the point and that is for some reasons very real  but just to let it surface and uncover it, i wanted to float this introductory passage as a trigger which would initiate some additional probing by my colleagues in our triad.

Another pointer is what about the teacher and students of international relations or political sciences???

I have a theory which says that The violation and protection or promotion of human rights is associated with the good and bad health of the society and nations".

This was one of the project that i worked on with the organisation that i am voulnteering for . I think that there is a link and its just about realising the fact that everything is so interestingly intericated and interlinked with each other that it ultimately determines the human health and human body is a continuous response trying to adapt with the variety of stimuli and changes fed to it through variety of portals.I am so sorry i think i did it again and i have dumped such a huge explanation to my own question and situation that i have experienced so many times in my teaching career.

34. males trying to dominate TA/teacher - question authority

Talk to them outside of class privately about your concern. You can try being kind (just incase they didn't realize they were doing it) but be prepaired to be firm if they don't respond to the first

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