Department of Political Science
Recipient, Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs
Each spring graduate students are invited to nominate faculty members for the Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs. Typically each nomination is supported by several GSIs who have worked with the honoree. The award is sponsored by the Graduate Council’s Advisory Committee for GSI Affairs and the GSI Teaching & Resource Center.
The real secret to being a good GSI mentor is to have great GSIs. Beyond that, however, I rely on a few basic practical strategies.
I try to give my GSIs lots of information at the outset of the semester: lecture outlines, study questions, class announcements, exam guidelines, exams, and teaching evaluations from previous semesters.
I also give them memos specifically addressed to them from previous GSIs for the same course. In these memos, the previous GSIs have addressed two questions: How could I (the professor) improve the course in future years? And what do future GSIs need to know to perform their best as instructors in this course?
By asking the GSIs to write these memos, I achieve several goals at once: 1) I improve my own teaching, 2) I allow my current GSIs to benefit from the experience of the previous GSIs, and 3) I signal to the GSIs that I take their input very seriously. They can see for themselves that I have made adjustments in the course in response to past feedback from GSIs.
I ask the GSIs to report to me regularly on what they encounter in the sections. They often know best how the students are responding to lectures and the readings. Our conversations also give us a chance to exchange notes on course goals and teaching strategies.
I try to convey to the GSIs that I view them as full partners in teaching the course. I consult with them in advance on issues that affect them directly, such as the scheduling of paper assignments and class debates. I tell the GSIs that they should feel free to challenge me or to raise questions in class or in on-line discussions.
I encourage but do not require the GSIs to give a guest lecture. I allow them to choose the topic and the date, and whether to use an entire class session or just part of one. I make sure to give them suggestions before the lecture and feedback afterward.
I visit the discussion sections early in the semester, and then meet with the GSIs to discuss teaching strategies. I try to maintain a positive tone. I make it clear that I recognize that I need their input as much as they need mine.
With good communication and mutual respect, the teamwork tends to fall into place naturally. Good GSIs make teaching easier for the professor, and a good professor makes teaching easier for the GSI. I emphasize that I see the GSIs as partners in a joint enterprise, and I try to convey this attitude to the students as well as to the GSIs. I try not to ask the GSIs to do too many administrative tasks because this could undermine the spirit of partnership.
I discuss the division of labor with the GSIs from the outset. I do not view the professor simply as a lecturer or the GSIs simply as discussion leaders. I incorporate discussion into the “lecture” sessions, and the GSIs integrate some teaching/ lecturing into the “discussion” sessions. To improve coordination between the two, I try to give the GSIs advance notice about what material I plan to cover, and which discussion questions I plan to raise in the lecture session. But I also tell my GSIs that some repetition from lecture to discussion can be useful. Normally, the students should encounter important concepts/ topics three times: first in the reading, then in lecture, and finally in the discussion section.