S3xE6: Teaching Support Staff with Yesenia Velasco (Part 2)
Here’s episode two of our two-part series on teaching associates! A teaching associate is a teaching support staff position here at Duke University. This episode is a conversation with Yesenia Velasco. We talk about how her role is different than Kate O’Hanlon from our last episode, reflect on how Duke did at its first attempt at such a position, and look towards the future of where such a position can go.
You can also download this episode directly.
Kristin[00:09] Hello, and welcome to the CS-Ed Podcast, a podcast where we talk about teaching computer science with computer science educators. I’m your host, Kristin Stephens-Martinez, an assistant professor of the practice at Duke University. Today’s episode is the second of a two-part series on staff positions to support large courses here at Duke. Our first episode focused on what is currently happening, and this one is more of a reflection on how we did in our first attempt at this position and some future thinking of where that position can go. Joining me today is Yesenia Velasco.
Kristin[00:39] All right, so, Yesenia, first I’d like to ask, how did you get here? We all have more winding paths than meets the eye, and I’d love to hear your story.
Yesenia[00:48] Yeah, for sure. Well, while I was working towards my master’s degree, I was cementing the idea that I will probably want to pursue teaching as a career and most likely at the university level. This was, it was a slow drawn conclusion. And I didn’t have any teaching experience because, you know, slow drawn conclusions. But I did make it a point to become a graduate teaching assistant each semester. And I took that job very seriously. And fortunately, the professor I was working with, who happens to be the DUS, took notice and invited me to apply to the role I’m currently in, which is a teaching associate. And it was a very validating experience because, you know, I was like, oh my gosh, I must be doing a great job, I must be cut out for this. And it definitely presented a next step on where to go after graduation, which is a scary moment for a lot of students who are graduating.
Kristin[01:50] Cool. So define the DUS for the audience, though, because you and I know what that means.
Yesenia[01:55] Yes. A director of undergraduate studies.
Kristin[02:00] Okay. So first off, we talked to Kate in the last episode, which more was focusing on what currently happens here at Duke for a teaching associate. And I think what’s good to start out with is reminding the audience a little bit about what a teaching associate does by talking about what you do in contrast to Kate.
Yesenia[02:18] Yeah. Well, Kate takes on a different set of classes than I do, and I primarily focus on our CS1 course and computer architecture. So our department has actually two versions of computer architecture that they teach, and I assist with both of them. These classes range from 150 students to 250, and I work with a team of roughly around 15 to 30 UTAs each semester per course. So it’s a big team, and I, like Kate, I tend to primarily focus on the project management side of the role, just managing all the UTAs, making sure everybody has everything and anything that they need to succeed in their role. And one of the things that I lean more on in my role is more of the technical developer side of things, where I will create scripts to automate some of the processes that we do. And this can be grading scripts and scripts to automate how we collect student feedback, things such as those. Also, the autograder, making sure that is maintained and improved as much as we can. Of course, student outreach. Kate and I, although we have the same role, we do have different ways of tackling each and every aspect of our role. Kate tends to be more on the organization, keeping her team together and highly organized, and I will be more on the technical side of the role.
Kristin[03:44] When you came on as a teaching associate, that was my first semester teaching the CS1 by myself. And so that was the semester also that I introduced the autograder. So you, you were with me in the trenches as we were like, how do we do this?
Yesenia[03:57] Yes, that was actually one of the things that I really enjoyed. Well, I find myself very fortunate to have you as the first professor I worked with because I was lost. Like I am applying for this role, but I’m not quite sure what this role even is. And you gave me more structure than I think Kate had at the time. Because I think the professor she was working with was like, I don’t know who you are or what you’re doing. And then you came in with like a vision. And I was here visionless. So I was like, I don’t know. Guide me, please. So it was more structured on my end. And I believe you asked me what do you hope to get out of this role? And that’s when we had that conversation of like, I want to be a lecturer one day. And you definitely gave me tidbits of knowledge that I didn’t even know I didn’t have. So I was really appreciative of that.
Kristin[04:47] Yeah, I remember that conversation because like, I didn’t know who you were because you were not one of my TAs when I co-taught the class the semester before. And so I think neither of us really had a sense of like what you were meant for, except for this idea that you were to help with consistency across the semesters. So when a professor changed, the course is still relatively the same. And that was like all I understood because that was my second semester at Duke ever.
Kristin[05:11] But when you told me that, like overall, my goal eventually is to become a lecturer, I was like, okay, so this is because in my mind there’s kind of a couple of different ways of interacting with someone who is supporting me in my teaching. One is you are an extra process I can fork off and have you do stuff or you are someone I am mentoring to potentially do at least some of what I do. And so when you said like I want to be a lecturer I was like, okay, so you will be the person that still does like act as this process I fork off whenever I need to. But I will explain to you all the method behind my madness. Like, I am very aware that some of the things I do looks like madness. But me being aware that that was one of your career goals kind of pushed me to always say why I was doing what I was having you do or why I was doing certain things. And for me, it was also beneficial because it helped me articulate whether or not like what I was doing was even a good idea. Because if I couldn’t explain it to you, maybe I shouldn’t have been doing it.
Kristin[06:12] Yeah. So I remember Kate. She talked about how product management outreach and there were two other things. One was development, and I’m blanking on the fourth one. The four other aspects to the role. Instructor. That was the other aspect.
Yesenia[06:26] Yeah. So I do teach my own courses over the summer. So essentially in the spring and fall where I am primarily the teaching associate, not an instructor, I am not only helping making sure these courses succeed, I am also like I act like a sponge where I absorb how each professor tackles their course. And I’ll ask these questions like, why are you taking this approach? Or have you thought about taking this other approach? Because eventually, as I mature in my own role, I do develop my own ideas.
Yesenia[06:59] And I do like to communicate them. So come summer, where I am the primary instructor, I have the opportunity to test out things that I wanted to test out. And I also have the opportunity to put into practice things I’ve seen other professors do that I’ve never tried myself. So I see it very much like hands-on practice. I’ve learned the concepts in spring and fall. Come summer, I’m applying the concepts for myself and seeing what that feels like. What does it mean to succeed? Where did I fall short, and can improve on? An example of this would be peer instructions. So when I was a graduate TA, I didn’t see peer instructions being used in the CS1 course. But when I became a teaching associate, I noticed that you were doing them, and I was like, this is really interesting. What is this? And you were talking to me about the benefits of it, but at the time, I didn’t fully, even though I was able to understand what you said, I didn’t know it to the extent that I do now. And come summer, I was like, let me try this peer instruction thing. Let me see what this is all about. And I was able to see firsthand, like, okay, I can see it in my students. Therefore I can apply it and absorb it as part of the pedagogy that I’ve been developing throughout this role.
Kristin[08:18] Yeah. So, what classes do you teach in the summer? Because I thought you only taught like our CS1 and almost like our pre-CS1 of the summer. Do you teach the computer architecture class in the summer?
Yesenia[08:28] No, I actually teach 94 which is our Alice course. So it’s intro to programming via Alice and I also teach our CS1 course. The reason I don’t teach computer architecture in the summer is because that’s already being taught by one of the professors from the ECE department.
Kristin[08:48] Oh Yeah. Okay.
Yesenia[08:49] Mm hmm. And I have been in the talks about potentially teaching a different course. So, in this case, it would be a matter of developing a new course, an elective per se, to kind of fill in the gaps in the curriculum. So one of the benefits of the perspective that I have in my role in that I’m able to see how classes connect with each other in the way a professor might not be able to see if they don’t teach this spectrum of courses, is that I’m kind of at a unique perspective where I can see where the gaps are. And in seeing these gaps, I can say, oh my gosh, you know what an elective can help fill in this gap. In our case, a systems programming course can help fill in the gap where students are not as comfortable with a command line as they would like to be and, you know, get more comfortable with GitHub and features such as these.
Kristin[09:42]Yeah. What do you think are the benefits to the department for having a position like this?
Yesenia[09:44] I think the benefits are many. So one of the things that we’re seeing is there’s a trend where professors are just being stretched thin, and this is not in one specific university. It’s just a trend that I’ve seen across all universities. Professors are wanting to do more, but their time isn’t exactly increasing. So as these classes are growing and the scaling needs to happen, having a staff who’s dedicated to making sure the class works at a bigger scale definitely helps professors relocate some of their time towards innovating their course, whereas they otherwise would not have time to do so.
Yesenia[10:32] And this is just one benefit. Another benefit is the unique perspective that we have. Since we’re working across multiple courses throughout the whole curriculum, we’re able to see how these classes connect with each other and are able to help tailor these courses so that students coming out of one class meet the expectations that the subsequent class expects of them. And does help merge in these gaps of what students are expected to have learned or be able to do.
Kristin[11:03] I think also Kate mentioned that you’re kind of also a reservoir of useful knowledge that everyone needs to know but only picks up at random points. Like what does it mean to have to need a quiet room for exam accommodations? Like what does that actually mean? And so, like, once one of you knew, like kind of all of us knew because you were the one we would go to to ask these kinds of questions. So I think that was another benefit, at least that I can think of for having a staff person like this. But I think one thing that is a little bit absent from the conversations that I have with people when they ask about having a staff person that helps support teaching is the person itself, like how does this kind of job benefit the individual person? And so I think you touched on it a little bit in the beginning of our conversation where I asked you what were your goals and you’re like, I want to be able to teach. But I was wondering if you could go a little deeper on that idea.
Yesenia[12:07] Yeah. So when I was graduating, I knew I wanted to pursue teaching at the university level, but I knew also that I didn’t have the proper experience for it. So I definitely felt unprepared, and it felt like I was being thrown out into the real world when I wasn’t really ready for it. And taking on this role definitely served as an apprenticeship where I was able to realize my own identity as an instructor, realize what my pedagogy is, what my teaching philosophy is, all of these things that weren’t fleshed out. I didn’t realize I didn’t have a concrete idea as to how do I go about teaching? And this will definitely help build my teaching portfolio per se, have me become a more independent thinking instructor. That’s not just parroting what I’ve seen, but more so understanding why I’ve seen what I’ve seen and how I can go about customizing my teaching to better serve my students. And I think that’s generally what I’ve gotten out of this course.
Yesenia[13:22] Another thing that I see, I see as a benefit for someone taking on this type of role is I see a lot of students that they know they don’t really want to go into industry, but they’re not quite sure if academia is for them. So they’re kind of in this gray area where I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I don’t want to be a developer, but I’m not sure if teaching is for me or anywhere in academia for me. And this type of role is kind of that middle ground where you’re not only given an opportunity to see both sides so you can stay in the technical side of the role, you know, improving on the autograder, learning about unit testing when if you didn’t know about it before. So you’re honing some of these transferable skills in case, you know, you do want to go back into industry, and you’re also getting a really close personal insider view on what does it mean to teach. So you’re getting both sides of what does it mean to be in computer science and can therefore have time to make up your mind, you know, see what’s out there and eventually move on to where you want to go in life.
Kristin[14:33] So that kind of vision sounds a little bit like this position is a bit of a revolving door in a sense, like you’re not here long term, you’re potentially here for I don’t think the right word is a pit stop. You’re here for a bit longer than that, but you’re not here for, this is not the, this is not the place you will stay for your entire career. Can you see this as a position, though, that can be a full career? Like, what are your thoughts on that?
Yesenia[15:10] It can definitely be a permanent position. There just would need to be room for professional development past the boundaries of what the current role is at the moment. So the way the current role is at the moment makes it so that you’ll probably have someone in that role 3 to 5 years per se, and they’ll be perfectly content. The reason that I think someone can stay in this role for a lot longer and will prevent a high turnover of candidates is how customizable is the role to meet their own professional development goals. Also, how trusting is the department to give the teaching associate autonomy over what passion projects they wish to take on, and at what scale with these projects incorporate?
Yesenia[16:07] So, for example, one of my passion projects is TA training. So although it’s not explicitly written in my job description, the department is open and happy for me to take on these projects and work on improving TA training across the whole department. And those are the things that keep me professionally fulfilled and keep me from itching to get out and move on. So I’m pretty happy with the current role that I’m in. Now, somebody who wants, let’s say, stays a few years more. Now that they’ve completely matured in their role, they would need somewhere else. Like, what’s next? Where can I go further? I feel like I’ve learned everything there is to learn in this role. What’s next? And it’s just a matter of meeting those challenges. Keep them challenged, keep them intrigued, keep them working towards something new and exciting, and that definitely can happen more. It’s probably a lot easier to occur in a much larger department, but I can always see that there’s definitely projects even within the size of our department at Duke University that can meet those challenges. For example, creating these workshops that teach computer science to students who aren’t necessarily pursuing a degree but just want to get these one-off workshops, projects such as these.
Kristin[17:34]So, one thing that I don’t think we really made salient before is both you and Kate have master’s degrees, like you kind of got your master’s degree and then did this position, and the position actually originally does say that you needed a master’s degree to qualify. And looking back, though, does that make sense? Like, or can you imagine part of this career progression actually being you start with a bachelor’s and then one way to step up is a master’s in computer science, and that means something and I’m waving my hands because I don’t know quite know what I’m trying to say. And really I should just, like, be quiet and let you tell me, what do you think, Yesenia?
Yesenia[18:19] Yeah, the Master’s degree works particularly well if you would like the teaching associate to be teaching summer courses. That makes them, you know, very quickly able to do so. I can see this role working for someone with a bachelor’s degree and teaching would be a bit of an issue in that they won’t be able to, but they can definitely work on their master’s part-time and, you know, with the department helping to fund that. And that will definitely keep them invested in the role for a longer term in that coming out of the master’s degree, they can, you know, pursue teaching, but somebody with just a bachelor’s degree in the teaching associate role can take on larger projects during the summer if they’re not currently working and with any summer courses. So, for example, I mentioned previously the TA training. Someone with a bachelor’s degree in a teaching associate role can take on TA training and help it, improve on it, completely revamp it, just really innovate it in a way that none of us have been able to do due to time constraints.
Kristin[19:32] I think also that there’s kind of pros and cons, obviously, to taking someone who got their bachelor’s from the current university and then became a teaching associate role or not. But one advantage, I feel, is that they can then spend the summer probably partially supervised by a professor who’s going to teach that course and help revamp material or create new content and that kind of thing. And then that will partially help them in the support of that class, and their summers can still be productive. It’s just a different kind of productive.
Yesenia[20:07] Right. And to take on your point about having somebody come from the department versus outside of the department, there’s definitely pros and cons to both. Coming from the department, I believe Kate mentioned this, is that they already understand the nuances behind the how the department runs, the nuances behind the assignments, and they understand the courses very well. But outside of the department, they’re coming with a different perspective. They’re able to let us know how other departments in other universities are doing something that we might not even have considered. And new ideas that would be exciting to implement or new connections. People we might want to talk to and see how they do things. You know, there’s pros and cons to having someone in the department or outside, just like it would be with an instructor.
Kristin[20:57] One of the hard parts of trying to recruit someone finishing their bachelor’s. To come to your school from somewhere else is that I think the advertising would be hard. And then on top of that is, if we’re honest, it’s a staff position at a university. It’s not going to pay as well as if they go industry. So that’s also a consideration, I think, that departments should be thinking about, given that this role is very usefu,l but they are competing against industry. And sure, you might be getting someone who is very interested in education and teaching and sees this as an integral part of their career. But that doesn’t mean that you should put them at the bottom of the staff ladder when it comes to pay, if at all possible.
Yesenia[21:54] Yeah, there’s definitely challenges with academia competing with the pay that you would get in industry, and that’s definitely going to make finding good talent very difficult. And, you know, I won’t lie, the pay in industry, it does sometimes leave me wanting for more, but it comes with, you know, everyone understands academia is not able to compete with industry. And part of the passion with having someone who’s interested in academia and interested in the teaching aspects of their role is that they have that understanding. And it’s just one of the sacrifices that you make when you want to be in the academic world. Which I’m sure professors as well make the sacrifice.
Kristin[22:39] We do. There’s different ways to compensate for it. But yeah, in some ways, it’s true that it’s very difficult to have like equal compensation between the two, though I think part of me will always be pushing for more pay regardless because it’s in some ways it feels very inequitable to me. But I’m not someone who has such budget-like responsibilities. And so I think part of me also knows that I don’t know what I’m talking about because who knows what it takes to actually figure out budgeting constraints?
Yesenia[23:21] Well, one draw that this job does have is just having the flexibility to mold the role, to meet your own needs. So there’s some roles that are very 9 to 5, you know, you at this time, you should be in the office. I want to see you there. And then there’s roles such as ours where it’s definitely more flexible. We trust you that you know when to do your job. We trust you, that you’re working remotely, whatever the case is. Just having that sense of trust, that we definitely earned, but it was always inherently there from the very beginning, and also the ability to customize the role to kind of meet our own interests and our own professional development goals. That’s one of the big draws in that I have that flexibility. The department is willing to support that as well.
Kristin[24:20] I feel like part of that is department culture, than necessarily what I can imagine, like being inherent in a position if you just take a random department that decides to implement this. And I think that is in part because when we created this role, Kate was assigned to our CS2, and you were assigned to our CS1 one with me. And in some ways I didn’t know better. Like I didn’t know how much I should manage you or anything. I just knew that you had TA’d the course before, and a bunch of people are like, she’s good. And I’m like, all right, if she’s good, then like, I will trust her to get her job done until she proves me otherwise. And you never violated that trust. And so I think our department culture generally does have this level of trust, of believing that you will succeed and do what you need to do without necessarily overseeing you. And I think in some ways that’s a good thing. And in other ways that is ripe for having you fall through the cracks and flailing a little too much before someone realizes what’s going on and can pick you up. But I feel like it’s one of those sliding scales that is never going to be perfect for every department, for every person. So I don’t know how to prevent a flailing situation or anything like that, but maybe it’s at least something that is useful to think through for a department that’s thinking of creating a position like this.
Kristin[25:51] Which in some ways perfectly segways to my next question, which would be what would you recommend other departments think about as they are creating similar roles to this? Because especially for a lot of computer science departments, it seems that the growth is probably going to continue for a while. And if we are honest, a teaching staff person is going to be cheaper than a teaching professor. And one of the things I feel like the pandemic has at least brought a little bit more to the forefront is people willing to say that they need help. And I think one of the things admin are struggling with is that they don’t know how to help best. And so they’re using their pre-pandemic techniques to try and help their faculty when their faculty say, I am overwhelmed, I am working way too hard, I’m dying over here, please help. So, for a teaching staff role, what should a department think about as they create this position?
Yesenia[27:00] One of the things they should really take into consideration is how high of a workload they’re putting into the teaching associates role. So in this particular role, it sometimes feels like there’s many supervisors in that, your professors, although they are seen as your clients, you know, within the teaching associate role, they’re also semi- your supervisor in that they are in a position of authority. So even though you’re partnering with them, you know, there’s still that power hierarchy. And it can be difficult, and it was personally for me starting out, where you’re working with multiple professors, with multiple courses, and they’re all asking, you know, these tasks of you, and you’re more than happy to oblige, but at what point do you need to push back, as someone who’s new in the role is not going to be comfortable pushing back because again, there’s a hierarchy and you’re not going to be able to produce a level of work that you’re going to be happy with, things start to fall through the cracks and all of a sudden, you know, you have a teaching associate who feels like they’re just, you know, not doing great in the role. And these professors are sometimes expecting a level of service that they might have got in one semester, but somehow for a different semester, they can’t get the same level of service. But they don’t realize that the teaching associate is juggling many courses, and each semester is very different. You know, pre-COVID, they might have been able to take on three courses, post-COVID, maybe only two courses. There’s, you know, each semester is different. So I would say for the department that’s opening up this new role is to have a very safe and clear communication with the teaching associate. Just make it very easy for them to come to wherever their official supervisor is and let them know if they’re just being overburdened and have a supervisor be able to intervene, you know, say, hey, you guys are overworking your teaching associate because, you know, an overworked teaching associate is not a happy teaching associate.
Kristin[29:04] Yes, and they don’t get all the work done. Something is going to fall through the cracks.
Yesenia[29:10] Definitely. So it’s going to be hard for a department in general to keep an idea of how much work that teaching associate is being allocated. That might be a bit too difficult. But if the teaching associate themselves is comfortable going up to their supervisor and saying, hey, I think taking on three courses might be a bit much. Can we move it down to two? And giving them that ability is definitely going to be, I think, best for all parties involved. So that would be one thing to take into account.
Yesenia[29:44] The second thing to take into account would be the teaching associates' professional development goals. What exactly do they hope to take out of this role? That will help retain talent. So if they’re hoping to go into teaching as an instructor eventually, then giving them the stepping stones to improve on their teaching portfolio, to teach some classes over the summer, to learn more from the professors they are working with, take on that apprenticeship role, that will definitely give them the fulfillment that they’re seeking. If they want to stay more in the technical side of things, maybe they’re considering going into industry eventually, and they’re not quite sure, then having them embrace some of the tools, the technical tools that the course uses, such as the autograder, GitHub, whatever the case is, and learning these transferable skills is going to keep them satisfied in the role and keep them challenged. In essence, the takeaway is if you want to retain the talent longer term, it’s to keep the teaching associate challenged with new projects that is exciting to them and that is a very personal, you know, what one person finds exciting, it’s very personal to them.
Kristin[31:00] Anything else that you can think of? So it’s like one it sounds like it’s the power managing the power hierarchy and making sure that they have someone with some level of authority to push back, because, yeah, the way you described faculty as clients had never occurred to me, but it does make a lot of sense once you said it. But in some ways, it’s not quite client, as you said, and so, yeah, it’s interesting. And so, like the power dynamic is one, and the other one is actually thinking about the person’s progression through the career and the position. Because like here at Duke, I know that we’ve been talking about wanting to hire a third person, and that has gotten us thinking about like, is there actually a ranking like that you can go up this rank ladder over time in this position or not and we’re still in the middle of those like discussions as we’re debating all of this stuff. Is there anything else that you can think of, like what you wish was in the job description or what you wish that the department had considered before they hired you? Admittedly, you are talking to someone in the department, so there’s a certain power dynamic here, too, I would acknowledge.
Yesenia[32:19] I would say if there was a clear ladder progression, that that would be ideal. It’s hard to explain what that would be since it doesn’t necessarily currently exist within this department. But for example, if the ultimate goal for me personally is to be an instructor, and if I knew for a fact that staying in this position would lead me to instructor in this department, then I would be much, not that I’m already invested in the department like I love everyone, but it would definitely for, talking in the wider scope of things, it would keep the talent invested in the department, stay within the role because there’s a clear ladder progression of where to go next. In essence, promotions per se. With this being such a new role, there’s definitely, nobody does it perfectly, I’m sure there’s room for us to improve on it, but it would be nice to have such a ladder, somewhere to go, what’s next? So that’s always my question is what’s next? I’ve mastered this role, what’s next?
Yesenia[33:30] If you can’t do a title hierarchy or a ladder, a career ladder within the role, then these passion projects, I feel, would make all the difference in that maybe your title doesn’t change, you know, you’re a teaching associate, always teaching associate. But what you do as a teaching associate does transform over the years and it becomes new and exciting each time. The role evolves as the person evolves.
Kristin[33:58] Any last thoughts on what departments should think about for creating a position? Or maybe even if they have this position, they could be rethinking this position.
Yesenia[34:11]One thing I would keep in mind is to always consider innovating the role. To keep in mind the department’s needs as it changes throughout the years and so does its teaching associates' professional development goals, which also changes. The role shouldn’t be so rigid so as to you either do these tasks or you’re not succeeding in the role. Succeeding in this role can mean many different things, and there should be some flexibility in that. But at the same time, like you mentioned, some structure so for the teaching associate to not feel like they’re just flailing and not having a definition for what success looks like. So somewhere in between, which is different for every department, having that communication, that clear, safe communication with their supervisor can definitely help with finding that middle ground and also some feedback. One of the things that I sometimes struggle with is I’ll talk to a professor, and I’ll ask them, oh, okay, how am I doing? Like, am I meeting your expectations? And I’ll never get constructive feedback. There might not be any, but I feel like everyone can improve. But I do hear glowing reviews, and that feels great, it feels validating and like, oh, I must be doing a great job based off of all this great feedback that I’m receiving from the professors and likely students alike in the student reviews. But having some form of a feedback system where the teaching associate can find ways that they themselves can improve would also be nice to have.
Kristin[35:55] So one thought I had while listening to you was whose job should it be to be thinking about the teaching associates like career progression, aspiration, professional development, like those pieces? Like is it your supervisor, which in our case is the business manager, or is it someone else in the department that should be thinking about these things? Like where should that responsibility live? Because for example, I don’t think it necessarily makes sense for the director of undergraduate studies to have that role because you might at one point be their teaching associate for a class they’re teaching because they’re also faculty. The faculty in that moment is going to be very shortsighted in focusing on just getting the class done and getting you to do those things. And so thinking beyond that would not occur to them as much compared to someone who is not faculty at all.
Yesenia[36:54] I would naturally say the business manager would be a good person because they’re not faculty, they’re able to look at the department from a different perspective, from a less biased perspective, from like what they need in their class, immediate needs. But the issue I would have is, does the business manager understand the true needs of the department because they’re not in that world. So then my next question would be, would it be the chair? In our department the chair also teaches some courses, and I have been asked to be their teaching associate as well. So that power dynamic would still be there.
Kristin[37:35] Yeah, though I feel like, the chair you’re less likely to be their teaching associate as often. Because I would hope the chair has some teaching release. But yeah, that was one of the thoughts that I had because, like, I feel that It’s good to say that someone should be paying attention to the professional development of a teaching associate. It is another thing to explicitly state that as a responsibility for a particular person or role. And I think that’s one thing that might be a necessary piece to think through when creating a position like this.
Yesenia[38:14] I agree.
Kristin[38:15] All right, so let us close out with TL; DL: too long didn’t listen. What would you say is the most important thing you would want our listeners to get out of our conversation?
Yesenia[38:27] For those who are constructing the role for the first time. My TL;DL would be to consider the flexibility of the role within the constraints of what are the core needs. Meet those core needs. Then after that, have it more open ended for the teaching associate to kind of mold the role to meet their own professional development needs in a way that is still constructive towards the department.
Yesenia[38:58] For those who already have a teaching associate and want to make sure that the role is a success. You know, once they have that person staffed, have that clear communication channel, make it an environment where the teaching associate feels like it is safe and there will not be any fall back if they push back from their workload. That they’re able to be honest and transparent about what their current experience is, and that the department is invested in improving the teaching associate experience to better support their success in the role.
Yesenia[39:38] And then for the professors who are working with a teaching associate, you know, having a communication with them of what your expectations of them are, having a clear view on that, make sure both parties are on the same page. Also, if there’s something that you’re not particularly happy with, just being able to communicate that in an empathetic way because the professor does not have the big picture of you on the teaching associate role. Naturally, only the teaching associate would. Then, you know, there can be that conversation to be had if need be. But having clear expectations, I think, would help provide some structure. And if there aren’t any expectations, this is the first time the professor works with the teaching associate, then that’s fine. Not knowing is at least somewhere to start. Just vocalizing that hey, I don’t really know what you’re doing here. Can you help? Can we work together towards defining what your expectations should be? Would be a great place to start and just really having the teaching associate be more of a partner rather than someone that works for you per se. Helps them feel more empowered towards providing critical feedback if they see something that’s not quite working with the course, but they’ve seen that it works in other courses as well.
Kristin[41:01] Thank you so much for joining us, Yesenia.
Yesenia[41:03] Thank you for having me.
Kristin[41:05] And this was the CS-Ed Podcast hosted by me, Kristin Stephens-Martinez and produced by Amarachi Anakaraonye. And remember, teaching computer science is more than just knowing computer science. And I hope you found something useful for your teaching today.