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Viewpoint: Evaluating GSI training

BY MEHER WALIA

Published April 8, 2014

I walked into my classroom on the first day of classes. It’s at an annoying time, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. twice a week. My GSI introduced himself. He seemed nice; I was just thankful he spoke fluent English. The next class, there were four or five new students in my class. They introduced themselves and my GSI asked them out of curiosity why they transferred to this inconveniently timed class. They said that their former GSI had told them, no, encouraged them to transfer to a different section. They explained how their GSI said that he didn’t know English well and that he had never taught Calculus before. He said there were parts of the course he did not like to teach, so he was just going to skip them over. He warned that they better transfer to another section if they could.

This may have been one example, but it is a widely known fear that applicants are scared to enter a section or class in which their GSI does not speak English, or has had little experience teaching. At a top university like the University of Michigan, considered a “public Ivy” and being rated as #22 in universities worldwide, it is a shame that students are afraid they might enter a classroom where their GSI does not speak English. Especially in a difficult class, such as Calculus I, it is vital that a GSI not only speaks understandable English, but also can effectively teach. The math department is one of the best in the country, but with its stellar reputation comes a tendency to be extremely difficult for even the best mathematicians. If students cannot even rely on having a decent teacher to teach them, the chances for them to succeed in that class are not high.

Students at the University are smart and capable, as only 36.5 percent of students are accepted. They are obviously hardworking. Students deserve to feel safe signing up for any section, and not nervous that they might not get a good grade because are they not properly being taught. In addition, University tuition is extremely high, especially for out-of-state students. Students deserve to know they are going to have good GSIs.

One solution to this is possibly altering the way GSIs are trained. The University claims their goals in training GSIs are to “ensure that the information GSIs receive and the skills they are taught apply specifically to their fields” and that “to stress the importance of good teaching by using skilled faculty, the GSIs’ role models, to develop and run the training sessions.” Though these are important, because the University is a diverse school, GSIs come from diverse backgrounds as well. University needs to ensure that GSIs not only are highly skilled in the subject they are teaching, but that they are proficient in English so they can effectively communicate with their students. Hopefully if the University takes a better-rounded approach to teaching their students, students will be more successful in their courses.

Meher Walia is an LSA freshman.


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