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Notes from the CFT Library: From First Day to Final Grade

This article was originally published in the Spring 2002 issue of the CFT’s newsletter, Teaching Forum.

by Leila Lehnen

The Center for Teaching has a growing library of materials related to teaching, including books, videotapes, journals, and articles. These materials are available to any teacher at Vanderbilt. You may browse while in the library or check materials out. The Library is located in the Center for Teaching offices, Calhoun 116.

First Day to Final Grade. A Graduate Student’s Guide to Teaching , by Anne Curzan and Lisa Damour. U of Michigan Press, 2000.

Anne Curzan received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and is presently an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Washington, Seattle. Lisa Damour also received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and is now a lecturer in Psychology at that institution.

The authors wrote this book as “an accessible, pragmatic teaching guide on a wide range of issues that arise both inside and outside the classroom for many first-time teaching assistants.” As a guidebook, First Day to Final Grade offers advice on topics that range from “Becoming a Teacher” and “Weekly Class Preparation” to “The Balance of School and Teaching.” Each of the ten chapters is divided into sections and contains explanations and also examples of class handouts and typical teacher-student conversations. Moreover, the book is peppered with teaching anecdotes that personalize it and remind the TA that she or he is not alone in experiencing awkward moments in the classroom.

Written in a clear concise manner, this book provides both first-time and more experienced TAs with a valuable tool for preparing class material, dealing with issues as diverse as gender and ethnicity in the classroom, grading, and the challenge of balancing individual research with the demands of teaching a course or leading a laboratory or discussion session. Even though I have taught for six years now, I found myself making mental notes of some of the advice given by the authors. For example, I found the section on “Grading Papers” very helpful. It offers concrete examples of how to evaluate objectively an assignment that, at times, can be viewed through a subjective lens. First Day to Final Grade is a valuable pedagogical resource as much for its organization as for the references it provides. Curzan and Damour mix pragmatic “tricks-of-thetrade” with bibliographical references that lead the interested TA to more complex pedagogical works. Being a time-pressed graduate student and TA, I appreciated not having to sort through an array of highly theoretical information to obtain some practical advice on how to improve my teaching.