Physics TA Focuses on Perfecting His Teaching Skills
COLLEGE STATION —
Juntao Chang, a graduate of China’s Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in physics, did not expect that one day he would help teach in classrooms in the United States. But Chang said despite some difficulties, he felt it was an interesting job to have.
Chang, a doctoral student in physics, came to Texas A&M in the fall of 2003. Soon after his arrival, he became a tutor in the Physics Department while doing research. Chang said he started to explain physics to people who came to him asking for help.
“I realized it takes skills to teach somebody on a thing that you know better,” Chang said. “I think that is why we have a discipline of education.”
In his second year, Chang taught four physics classes as a teaching assistant (TA). Chang said his main responsibilities were to conduct a weekly review for the students in the sections and instruct them during their weekly lab experiments.
Chang said that in the weekly reviews, he explains the main points of lecture that had been covered in past week, illustrates how to solve homework problems, gives a quiz in every class and grades the quizzes after class. Besides supervising the students’ laboratory experiments, Chang teaches students how to organize and compose their lab reports the right way, with charts and tables.
Chang said that as an international TA, he first must overcome language barriers and must work harder to fulfill his tasks. Chang prepared for every class, comparing it to a rehearsal. Chang said sometimes his TA job was pretty intense, and that he would work continuously from noon to 6 p.m.
“My throat got sore every Monday in that semester,” he said. “I had to steal some time from sleeping to make up the time I needed. Sometimes, I need to spend a whole Sunday or Saturday to grade the lab reports. But it was worthwhile. It was very interesting to interact with the students, helping them with what they needed.”
Chang said this past spring, he was a TA for Physics 689, Special Topics in Electricity and Magnetism. Chang said it was a beneficial experience, as his job was to help grade graduate students’ homework.
“It turned out that it consolidated my knowledge in physics a lot,” Chang said.
Zhiwei Chong, a doctoral student in physics and fellow TA, said Chang does not only take teaching as a job, but as an honor as well.
“He spends much more time on preparing for teaching than other TAs,” Chong said. “He wants his teaching to be as perfect as possible. When he found the data table in the lab manual (was) not satisfactorily helpful to the students, he improved the table and one of his students did tell me that it really helps a lot.”
Chang said he recently started coordinating with some Chinese students studying at U.S. universities to create a program that will allow both Chinese and American volunteers to teach and construct libraries in primary schools in some underdeveloped areas in China.
“Every volunteer would stay at a designed school for a month or so,” Chang said. “Funding needed to help schools there comes from charity. We volunteers pay airfares ourselves. I think that our being there would broaden eyes of the students in the poor areas, even if they don’t teach very much.”
Joseph Newton, dean of the College of Science, said that being a TA is a wonderful part of being at a research university, as long as they are well trained and well advised.
“A research university like Texas A&M is helping to train the next generation of faculty,” Newton said.
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