Reflections on the TA Teaching Excellence Award

For the past eight years, I have had the distinct pleasure of coordinating the Teaching Assistants’ Training Program Teaching Excellence Award. It is always inspiring to read students’ testimonials about teaching assistants who are making a difference in their education. It reminds me of stepping back into the undergraduate classroom (I am taking full advantage of UofT employee benefits by enrolling in classes) and being reminded how intelligent UofT students are – smart, insightful and funny. Much like the 2011 3M Fellows Thank Your Teacher initiative, the TA Award is an opportunity to say thanks but to also offer recognition for a job well done.

(from left to right, 2011 winners William McFadden, Department of History,
Siyu Liu, Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering)

Last year we received over 550 nominations (from students and faculty) for TAs – 185 individual TAs were nominated – and this year is looking just as promising. We have almost twice as many nominations as we did this time last year. I certainly don’t want to jinx the number of responses to come but I think we might be heading into a record breaking year. Some of the TAs who make the short-list of candidates receive dozens of nominations from students, others receive only two (the minimum required to be eligible for the short-list). Some TAs are leading multiple tutorials or labs in large survey courses, encountering dozens upon dozens of students, while others lead smaller group sessions, or are working as a Course Instructor. There really isn’t a standard, only good teaching and enthusiasm for the subject matter and sharing that enthusiasm with their students. As one student wrote (in a nomination letter submitted during the short-list stage as all online nominations are anonymous) said about 2008 award winner Chiara Frigeni, Department of Linguistics:

Chiara was constantly encouraging students.  She would find a way to elicit student participation in a manner that didn’t make people feel singled out; rather, she made it fun and enjoyable. She was constantly encouraging, and her passion for course material was unparalleled.

As I have the chance to see the nominations as they come in, I know that this story isn’t unique. We hear from students on all three campuses from a wide range of departments. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times (and will probably say it a thousand times more), enthusiasm counts.

To nominate a TA, please visit the Teaching Excellence Award website.