A little background: within Physics 691G, we do a two-week unit on issues of identity in the classroom. We segue into the unit by thinking about the challenges in evaluating teaching which is done in the context of the new grads observing more experienced TAs. After we explore the challenges of evaluating teaching, the new grads complete an worksheet based upon an exercise developed by Kirsten Helmer of TEFD. In this assignment, the new grads must they explicitly consider their positionality along multiple axes. We then spend two weeks looking at case studies of various interactions within the classroom. During the first week, we investigate situations where the new grads identity as a student is salient. The second week, we move to situations where their identity as instructors is more relevant. In that second week, many of the new grads seemed uncomfortable with the power that being in an “instructor” role bestows.
In retrospect, this discomfort should not be surprising: these new graduate students are generally finding themselves to be in a position of power within the classroom for the first time. Getting these new TAs to recognize that power and how it can be used both consciously and unconsciously should perhaps be a more explicit focus of these exercises and TA training going forward.