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9. What other situations should I be prepared for?

This section gives you some suggestions for handling certain special situations that you will likely face in your classes. Other situations will sometimes arise that you are uncertain how to handle. Questions about any of these can be directed to ITLAL, the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Studies, or the Office for Conflict Resolution and Civic Responsibility.


Students with Disabilities

Difficult Students


The Overbearing Student


The Silent Student


The Dependent Student


The Troubled Student


The Possible Date


Academic Problems


Resolving Disagreements


Preventing Plagiarism


Detecting Plagiarism


Reporting Plagiarism and Academic Honesty and Dishonesty


Letters of Recommendation


Prior to Writing a Letter of Recommendation


Writing the Letter of Recommendation


Retaining Records


Professional Relationships with Faculty and Staff: Working with Professors


Professional Relationships with Faculty and Staff: Working with Administrative Professionals

 

 

Students with Disabilities
Students with disabilities, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, are those with an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life functions. These include sensory, mobility, learning, psychiatric and alcohol/chemical dependency disabilities.

Students with disabilities are held responsible for learning the same material. You must make reasonable accommodations to assist the student in completing the course requirements. For example, additional time or other special testing accommodations may be needed. If you have questions about students with disabilities, or need to arrange assistance or accommodations for a student with a disability, contact the Disability Resource Center. (Return to top)

Difficult Students

Classroom management is essential to establishing and maintaining an effective learning environment (and your sanity!). Even with your best efforts, though, there will be some students who push the boundaries of appropriate behavior. Sometimes unusual behavior can be overlooked, but not if it disrupts the work of the class or upsets some of its members. Some problems you can handle yourself; more serious ones need to be referred to professionals competent in handling them.

In general you should be clear about what you consider appropriate participation. Does everyone need to speak in each class? Second, you might want to think about broadening your view of participation. Does participating in an on-line forum count toward a discussion grade? Finally, be aware of differences in gender and culture in the classroom and how these differences may affect students’ participation. The following are types of difficult students you may encounter. (Return to top)

The Overbearing Student
You may find yourself dealing with a student who talks too much, blurts out answers before others have a chance, asks complicated questions off the subject being discussed, or speaks at length on a pet topic. An occasional digression is fine, but if this behavior persists for several meetings you need to take action.

Start indirectly. Try to head off trouble by saying “Let’s hear from some other students” and obviously passing over the student, or saying, “That’s a fascinating topic; let’s discuss it after class.”

If neither option works, ask the student to stay for a minute after class. Then, in the empty classroom, or somewhere in public where you can talk relatively privately, explain to the student that you value his or her participation and wish more students contributed. If the student’s answers in class are generally good, say so. Do not criticize but point out matter-of-factly the difficulty of involving everyone in a discussion if someone dominates. (Return to top)

The Silent Student
Students who attend class regularly but never speak may need encouragement. It is helpful if all students know each other by name. When handing back assignments, compliment their performance (if possible). Ask them to come in during your office hours. After calling on three or four others in class, call on the quiet one(s) by name. If you expect all students to participate in discussions, you should note this in your syllabus – it is after all the “contract” that you have with the students.

If participation is required for your class, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

The Dependent Student
It may be flattering to have a student continually asking questions after class, filling your office hours, perhaps seeking extensive personal advice. Some students are “dependent types”—that is, they like individual attention. But this attention doesn’t have to come from you. Consider encouraging them to become more independent: “I could help you with this, but I think you’ll learn more doing it by yourself.”

The student may want to be friends or just enjoy spending time with you, possibly without realizing this explicitly. If you’re unhappy about it or cannot afford the time, let the student know in a businesslike, but tactful, way. (Return to top)

The Troubled Student
Students may come to you with personal or academic problems because they like and trust you. If you feel more experienced guidance is called for—and this will certainly be the case if the student’s problem is serious—then be wary of offering too much advice of your own. It’s better to refer the student to one of the University’s counseling resources, such as the University Counseling Center or Middle Earth Peer Assistance. Normally advisors refer students and you should find out if the student has talked with his or her advisor, or would like to. In general, try to have the student make the appropriate appointment by phone while still in your office. (Return to top)

The Possible Date
It’s a situation that occurs in various sexual configurations, but for purposes of discussion let’s say you’re a male teacher who has noticed an attractive female student who sits in the second row, asks good questions, and sometimes stays after class with a comment. You find yourself drawn to her and wonder if you should ask her out for coffee, or dinner and a show, and see where it leads. Our advice on such a situation is brief: DON’T. (Return to top)

Academic Problems
Be aware that many of your students—especially if you teach freshman courses—may still be adjusting to the college environment and finding the transition from high school to college work especially difficult. While this is not your responsibility you can take steps to ensure this student’s success in your class. If you see a student starting to miss class, getting poor grades on tests and class work, or beginning to behave erratically you can approach him or her after class or put a comment on a test recommending a meeting with you after class or in your office hours.

These students are often having trouble coping with the changes around them and may need suggestions for help with study skills and time management as well as get additional help with the course material. Encourage them to take advantage of tutoring services (e.g., those offered for some of the large freshman courses through Academic Support Services, or the residence hall and fraternity tutors). (Return to top)

Resolving Disagreements
In dealing with a disagreement or confrontation with a student, seek the advice or guidance of a department head or coordinator for teaching assistants who has dealt with similar problems and can advise you on appropriate steps. You may ask a colleague to witness your interaction with the student, as the colleague can remain neutral and point out possible routes for solving the problem.

Here are some suggestions for dealing with these potentially volatile situations:

Preventing Plagiarism
Plagiarism occurs when students use the words or ideas of another and do not reveal the identity of that source. Examples vary from purchasing a paper from another to quoting or paraphrasing a passage without proper attribution.

Careful planning and assignment design can help to discourage plagiarism in your course. Here are some suggestions.

Detecting Plagiarism
There are various steps you can take if you suspect that plagiarism is taking place in your course. You can use a search engine like Google to look for a particularly suspicious phrase, talk to your senior faculty and colleagues about what they do to detect plagiarism, and see if your department has any resources in place for dealing with plagiarized work. (Return to top)

 Reporting Plagiarism and Academic Honesty and Dishonesty
The University at Albany has a clear and complete policy dealing with academic dishonesty. This policy statement may be found in all copies of both the Graduate and Undergraduate Bulletins. The preface to the statement of Standards of Academic Integrity states the matter eloquently:

Throughout their history, institutions of higher learning have viewed themselves and have been viewed by society as a community of persons not only seeking truth and knowledge, but seeking them in a truthful and ethical fashion. Indeed, the institution traditionally trusted by the public and the one to which it most often turns when unbiased, factual information is needed is the university. Thus, how a university behaves is as important as what it explores and learns.

This statement and additional information about the University’s policies regarding academic dishonesty are available in the Undergraduate Bulletin. (Return to top)

Letters of Recommendation
As a teacher you will be an important influence on the lives of many students and you may occasionally be called upon to write letters of recommendation to accompany a student’s application for a summer job, full-time employment, or graduate school. If you remember the student’s performance as commendable, you should have no difficulty with such a request. However, do not hesitate to decline when you feel you do not know the student well enough or when you would not be able to make a positive recommendation. The following suggestions may be helpful for writing letters of recommendation. (Return to top)

Prior to Writing a Letter of Recommendation
You may want to use this opportunity to teach students about their responsibilities in this process. The student should provide you with the information necessary for you to write the best recommendation possible, including

You may also find it useful to ask the student to provide a brief outline of what he or she would like emphasized in your letter of recommendation or ask the student for a brief resume in order to give you some insight into her/his goals and subsequent academic activities and achievements,. If applicable, you may ask for a copy of the letter or essay that many applicants are asked to write. (Return to top)

Writing the Letter of Recommendation
When recommending a student, a standard business letter format on your department’s letterhead is generally appropriate, unless other forms are provided. Be sure the student has provided you with this information.

If possible, use specific examples or anecdotes to illustrate the points you make in this letter. Focus on what makes this student different from others, but be careful not to overdo your praise and be honest above all else. If you are approached for a letter of recommendation and you feel that you cannot, in good conscience, write a positive letter, suggest that the student ask someone else.

A final note: include your title, telephone number, and address in case the employer should wish to contact you for further information, and keep a copy of the letter for your files. (Return to top)

Retaining Records
Save your class records! Although you may get to know your students quite well during a course, your recollection of individual students may become vague several semesters later. (Return to top)

Professional Relationships with Faculty and Staff: Working with Professors
Since professors are just as variable in their behaviors as any other group of people (some would say more variable), there can be no simple or single way of preparing to work with one. You will find them demanding and easy-going, on time and late, cranky and affable, friendly and aloof. Some view the academic world hierarchically; some are more egalitarian. Some will care passionately about the course you are helping them with, while others may appear to care very little. One may have clear expectations of you, while another doesn’t seem to know just what to do with you. With very few exceptions, professors do care about their courses, and they are very busy people, despite what you might read in newspaper editorials.

Professors are interested in providing the best course possible, as efficiently as possible. Ask how you might help (instead of waiting to be told), and even anticipate situations where your assistance will be of value. If an exam is coming up, find out if you can help with writing questions, arranging for computer grading, scheduling meetings with other TAs to discuss the exam, getting exam booklets prior to the test, and so on. You may know what to do, and if the professor isn’t the type to tell you how and when to do everything, ask! If the professor wants to take attendance in lectures, suggest ways that you may take care of this task. If there are videos to be shown, offer to make the necessary arrangements. In other words, think about ways of helping and ask if such help is needed.

Since most professors do care about their courses, and about their teaching, your help in keeping the quality of the course and instruction high is critically important. You may be assigned to a course that is not in your area of specialization. You are expected to rise above this situation and be supportive of this area, as well as of the professor. Make every course your course, at least in your own mind. (Return to top)

Professional Relationships with Faculty and Staff: Working with Administrative Professionals
Administrative professionals occupy critical and often under-appreciated positions in the University. The administrative staff’s job is to serve a large and varied constituency, and the typical member of this constituency often believes that these professionals work for him or her. While this may be true technically, having dozens of “supervisors” is clearly impossible. Departmental secretaries do want to help you do your job, and they have to balance your needs with the needs of many others. Your best approach is to ask if help, supplies, or whatever you need is available and, if so, how to obtain it. Listen to the secretary’s response.

Departmental secretaries are excellent sources of information about your department. They can tell you about office space, mailboxes, classroom locations, office hours and all sorts of things of critical importance to you. Secretaries, however, typically do not set policy or establish departmental rules. Direct your opinions or concerns to the faculty or department chair. (Return to top)

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