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Amanda Lee

BSCI222
Teaching Statement

I became interested in teaching genetics because Teaching Assistants have always played
a positive role in my own academic journey at UMD, and I want to be able to do that for other
students. I believe that through giving other students that same quality of time and consideration
that my best TAs gave me, I can make a positive impact in another student’s academic life. TAs
play an important role in helping students to solidify their understanding of complex concepts in
an environment that should feel comfortable, inviting, and patient. My experience with my own
TAs were very polarizing - they were either extremely helpful in getting me to a more in-depth
understanding of the lecture material, or extremely disorganized and confusing, often frustrating
me more than they helped me. I have noticed that the best TAs are able to accurately pinpoint the
most confusing concepts for the majority of their students and explain them flexibly using a
variety of methods - drawings and models, videos, and figures - ultimately bringing everyone to
a clear understanding. Having a TA who is consistently willing to do this is one of the most
important factors for my personal performance in any course. The other important factor is
having a TA that is obviously invested in your performance. A TA that cares about their students
is inevitably a more effective TA than one who maintains a sense of indifference.
As a biology major, I was motivated to learn about genetics primarily because it is the
basis for everything else in life and everything that I am learning about in my current courses.
Having a deeper understanding of these principles will help me in every other area of my field,
and through teaching these topics to others, I can solidify my own understanding of genetics
beyond the level that was required to merely pass the course with a good grade. I expect one
outcome of my teaching to be personal and professional growth, as well as students who
hopefully feel that I have done right by them. I aim to achieve a relationship with my students
where they always feel comfortable in asking me for help, and confident that I will, for the most
part, be able to answer their questions to a satisfactory degree. I never want them to see me as
condescending or uncaring. I think a clear indicator of success in teaching is being able to see
when the information “clicks” - whether for a small piece of the puzzle or for larger concepts, I
think that the ability to guide students to these connections definitely comes with effective
teaching.
I would characterize myself as being a very organized and structured person, and I think
this is reflected in many aspects of my teaching - I always know what topic or activity I plan to
cover next, I always grade papers fairly and on time, I anticipate (most) questions that will be
asked, I deliver content review in a clear and easily-followed framework. I also think that these
are values that I impart to my students - they can always count on me to be present, prepared,
and fair, and in turn I think this is an indicator of my expectations for them. I always strive to
have integrity in every aspect of my teaching. This guides me in grading fairly, treating my
students equally, and teaching accurately. And most importantly, it guides me in always doing
right by my students. I think that by focusing on that idea as a cornerstone of my principles, I
have grown into a satisfactory Teaching Assistant, and with more exposure and work, will
continue to improve as a TA.

Evaluations

Mid-Semester Student Feedback:

My mid-semester survey included the following traits, which my students were asked to
evaluate on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being ‘poor’ and 5 being ‘excellent’. The averages of these
scores from all 24 students is shown below:

TA: Organized Clear Explains Approachable Fair and


Amanda Explanations concepts and available impartial
Lee of
Assignments

Score 4.75 4.54 4.33 4.58 4.75


(1-5)

Additionally, each student was asked, “What is something that your TA does that is very helpful
to you?” Here are four student responses to this question:
● “Always available before, after, and during class to answer my questions. Makes every
discussion class interactive and fully explains the assignment.”
● “Answers questions in a nice manner, doesn't make her students feel bad for being
confused.”
● “She explains the material very well when asked, is very nice with all interactions, and
does a great job supplying relevant information.”
● “She responds quickly to emails and answers any questions I have in a clear and
concise manner.”

They were also asked, “What is something your TA could do better?” Here are four student
responses to this question:
● “Explain concepts in fewer words, make things easier to understand.”
● “Could more thoroughly explain some of the new material when brought up in
discussion.”
● “Explaining the assignments better at times. Sometimes we don't quite understand the
assignment questions and we ask her for clarification, but she is not quite sure herself.”
● “Be more involved while we work on discussion activities.”
Addressing Student Feedback:

One recurring theme in my feedback is that students wish that we could spend more
time covering lecture content during our discussion time. While most of the discussion period
every week is meant to be devoted to a predetermined activity, I have since tried to spend a few
minutes at the beginning of class going over one topic from lecture first. I have found that if I
simply open the class by asking if anyone has questions on the material, I do not generally get
any response, so this is not an effective way to determine what my students need help with, as
they are either too shy to speak up, or don’t yet know what they don’t know. They like to see me
work out problems on the board, so I usually prepare a couple examples to work through with
them.
Other constructive feedback from my students suggested that they would find it helpful
to have access to more practice and study material resources. For this, I did create a practice
worksheet for my students that included workable problems relevant for their second exam.
Finally, I have noticed instances where I have not been able to satisfactorily answer my
students’ assignment-related questions - this does not happen with every assignment, but it
does happen when I have not thoroughly previewed the assignment and answer keys myself
before discussion. I have tried to eliminate this issue altogether by completing each activity
ahead of time, analyzing the answer keys, trying to determine more efficient methods for my
students to complete these activities, and anticipating and troubleshooting any possible
problems that I think could pop up during discussion. From the end-of-semester feedback
(shown below), I think that I have done a good job improving on answering questions more
frequently during class.

End-of-Semester Student Feedback:

My end-of-semester survey asked the same questions in order to better compare this
feedback to mid-semester. The averages of these scores from all 24 students is shown below:

TA: Clear Explains Approachable Fair and


Amanda Explanations concepts and available impartial
Lee of
Assignments

Score 4.61 4.56 4.83 4.83


(1-5)

Likewise, each student was again asked, “What is something that your TA does that is very
helpful to you?” Here are four student responses to this question:
● “She explains everything in detail and makes it easy to do the assignments”
● “She comes around to answer questions on a routine basis”
● “My TA is very good at being open and helping us with information or assignments at all
times. She is very nice and patient with us.”
● “She is very nice and approachable. She answers things thoughtfully and shows
interest.”

They were also asked, “What is something your TA could do better?” Here are four student
responses to this question:
● “Explain concepts”
● “My TA could give more feedback on lab assignments that she has graded”
● “The course assignments can be very confusing so if she could explain them a little
more thoroughly beforehand that would be more helpful.”
● “Explaining some of the more complex discussion assignments”

Discussion Coordinator Feedback:

The attached photo shows my written notes from 4/26/17 during my meeting with Dr.
Paczolt regarding my performance as a TA. Her signature is on the bottom.
The previous week, Dr. Paczolt sat in on my discussion section during the Cystic Fibrosis Case
Study activity. Her feedback revolves around her general observations from this session.

Her two comments were that, first, I spent more of my time in the introductory lecture
discussing the physiological aspects of CF instead of the genetics, and that I should be mindful
to lecture more about the genetic content. This also goes along with the idea that introduction of
concepts should align with the material that will be covered or asked on the ensuing activity.
Secondly, Dr. Paczolt noticed that, although the students were to work in pairs for this
assignment, some students were really working alone instead of collaborating with their partner.
She suggested that I could minimize this in the way that I manage the classroom atmosphere, in
terms of emphasizing group work, and not separate-but-in-pairs work.

Sample Course Outline

BSCI222, Principles of Genetics, covers the basic principles and mechanisms of


heredity and gene expression as it occurs in humans, animals, plants, bacteria, and viruses.
The first objective of this course is to deliver the basic concepts, theories, and language of
genetics. The second objective is to build a framework for the organization of genetic
information, and provide an understanding of how changes to this framework can influence
biological processes. Finally, this course delivers an understanding of the ways in which
genetics can be used to address biological problems.

A list of the BSCI222 lecture topics, as covered by Dr. O’Brien, can be found below:

1. Cell Types, Molecular Structure of DNA, Chromosome Structure


2. Cell Division (Mitosis and Meiosis)
3. Mendelian Genetics
4. Pedigrees
5. Non-Mendelian Genetics
6. Sex Determination
7. Population Genetics
8. Recombination, Linkage, Hypothesis Testing, Gene Mapping
9. DNA Replication
10. Chromosome Variations, Mutations, and Mistakes
11. Mutagens and DNA Repair Systems
12. Transcription
13. Translation
14. Gene Regulation
15. Cancer
16. Comparative and Developmental Genetics
17. DNA Technology

A list of the weekly discussion activities, as designed by Dr. Paczolt, can be found below:

1. Mitosis and Meiosis


2. StarGenetics Fly Lab
3. Primary Literature #1
4. Lecture Exam 1 Review
5. Population Genetics Lab
6. SNP Case Study discussion
7. Phylogeny and BLAST assignments
8. Lecture Exam 2 Review
9. Gene Annotation
10. Gene Expression
11. Cystic Fibrosis Case Study
12. Lecture Exam 3 Review
13. Primary Literature #2
14. Final Exam Review

Included below are links to two Google Docs containing material that I created from my
students. The first document is a set of practice problems (modified from problems found in the
Pierce Genetics solutions manual) paired with brief “how to solve” guidelines. The second
document is the answer key. Both were relevant for Exam 2.
● https://docs.google.com/document/d/14aiirmw0k60sH8eYUr2r6OBg7f4l79iW8TbT_n3M
U2o/edit?usp=sharing
● https://docs.google.com/document/d/15F5KsOrCiVY75zArJxxqHx7oOF5C9-
rrzkxeEw37w4U/edit?usp=sharing

Additionally, I have included links to two exam review PowerPoints that I created with
three other TA’s:
● https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1umEJoa0be8CJORngEk4kKSGgyIRiZvw470_F
wb1eidc/edit?usp=sharing
● https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/16_rZKW-
lJwW2c8ylC7w28OncitxZczer2uX2OEmLMpw/edit?usp=sharing

Teaching Goals

Original Teaching Goal Statement:

As a teacher, my teaching goals are to be approachable and understandable. I want my


students to feel like they can approach me with any issue they are having in the course and feel
that I will be understanding and helpful in addressing their concerns. I also want to be
understandable and clear when I am explaining concepts or trying to clarify a confusing topic. I
also want to be able to run the class as smooth as possible, meaning having few to no
technology problems, transitioning smoothly between items on the agenda, being able to
encourage regular participation, etc.
For my students, my goal is for them to feel like they were improving their understanding
of the course content, and not just memorizing it in order to pass the exams. (That being said, I
also want them to do well on their exams and in the class as a whole.) I also want them to feel
confident in the material they are learning, and hopefully see it as something that is applicable
to their life, either as real-world knowledge or foundational knowledge for future courses.
Personally, I want to feel confident in teaching my students, and comfortable interacting
with them and answering their questions. My final personal goal is for TA-ing to eventually feel
like second nature - just as easy to lead a class as it is to be in one.

Fulfilling my Goals:

For the most part I do believe that I was able to fulfill my teaching goals. My mid-
semester feedback suggests that my students are comfortable asking me for help and find me
to be friendly - in my opinion, the nicest evaluation that I received said, “She doesn’t make her
students feel bad for being confused.” For me, this encompasses the most important aspect of
being an acceptable TA. And second, while I have been limited in the amount of time I can
devote to teaching as opposed to facilitating, I think that the times that I have been able to
address course content (including exam review days), I have done a fairly decent job in
explaining the concepts in a way that makes my students feel confident in their understanding.
Finally, I have definitely grown to feel confident teaching and talking to my students. At the
beginning of the semester, I felt so much anxiety even just thinking about the next class I had to
teach (but this is also how I knew this experience was very important for me to have). Now, I
hardly ever feel nervous going into discussion. By no means does it feel like second nature, but
after another semester, maybe it will.

New Teaching Goals:

My new teaching goals after this semester are to learn how to pinpoint trouble topics for
my class, tailor my teaching to the things my students struggle with, and to demonstrate more
authority. Now that I have a solid grasp on the mechanics of the course (it is operated differently
from when I took it as a student) and feel like I have a good understanding of how to explain
most topics, I now want to focus on being able to better read my students and pick up on when
they are confused and what they need - a lot of students do not ask for help or clarification even
if they need it, and even though it isn’t my responsibility to read minds, I think a good TA can still
tell when someone is completely confused, and knows exactly what to say to fix it. Going off of
this, I want to be able to tailor my teaching methods and content based on what my students
need help with, including making practice worksheets that help to address these issues and
making materials and mini-lectures accordingly. Finally, while I don’t have an issue with my
students undermining my authority as the head of the discussion, I personally feel like I can still
work on building this so that I can feel more confident in exercising secondary authority. This
includes instances where I have to answer student questions about class policies as well as
general questions on assignments. I realize that I am not expected to have the answer to
everything, but I want to work on getting better at doubting myself less when I do give answers.
Teaching Techniques

1. Using hands-on models - students used hands-on models to demonstrate the phases of
mitosis and meiosis. This seemed to be a good way to get students to think through the
concept on their own, but was not necessarily engaging.
2. Worked problems on the board - students enjoyed this the most, but it was challenging
for me to ensure that everyone was paying attention in this case. It was mostly
dependent on the student and whether or not they felt invested in learning. For the
students that enjoyed this and chose to use it as an active learning opportunity, it gave
them a chance to work through problems alongside my demonstration and ask questions
in real time. It also gave me the chance to answer questions as they cropped up and
resolve issues before the confusion was compounded.
3. Pair and Small-group discussion - I used this to warm students up to some of the
discussion activities and discussions, and sometimes to give them opportunities to work
through problems before going over them as a class. This was a good way to get
students to think through problems actively, but was sometimes hard to gauge how
much time to give everyone; for those who worked quickly, they would finish before
everyone else and disengage immediately. For those who worked slowly, they would
sometimes be stuck in the middle of their thought process as I was trying to bring the
class together.

Lessons Learned

The most valuable lesson I learned from my UTA experience was time management. I
had not initially expected for this position to take up so much time per week, but quickly realized
that in order to do my job well and be as available and helpful to my students as they deserved,
I could not afford to “cut corners” or neglect to examine the activities and content thoroughly.
This semester I balanced TA responsibilities, my own full-time courseload, clubs, volunteering,
and MCAT prep, and although it has been the most time-consuming semester so far in my
college career, I also believe that it has been my most successful one, and has taught me the
value of budgeting my time and staying on track.
One surprising thing that I discovered was how much I would enjoy teaching. To be
honest, I decided to UTA because it was something that just the thought of it made me nervous
- and therefore I knew it would be a good experience in that I would grow as a person - but I had
not expected to enjoy it, and I have found that I truly do.
One thing that I would do differently would be to start the semester with more
confidence. Students cannot tell whether or not you are comfortable or not, certain or not,
unless you show them. I am not sure whether or not my students felt that I had a shaky start at
the beginning of the semester, but I certainly felt that I did, and I think that the reason was that I
lacked the confidence in myself to let myself come across as comfortable and certain in front of
them. The first impression is very important, and I would want to “fix” my first impression, as I
think it would have set a better and smoother-sailing tone for the rest of the semester as far as
my experience goes. I would also devote more of my discussion time to reviewing content with
my students. I was typically afraid to do this, as I worried that I would run them out of time to
complete the actual (graded) activity that they were supposed to do. But I think that it would
have been worthwhile to try to find that balance to be able to give them both.

The UTA Experience

Beginning in the spring semester of my junior year, I served as an Undergraduate


Teaching Assistant for BSCI222, Principles of Genetics, at UMD. My responsibilities in this role
included grading assignments and exams, holding office hours, and leading a two-hour
discussion section of 24 students once a week. I kept up with lecture material, course
mechanics, and due dates, and took the time to keep my students up to date with weekly
reminders and prepare exam review materials, including content presentations, practice
worksheets, and resource guides.
During my discussion, I reviewed new content with my students, facilitated socratic-style
discussions, and fielded all manner of class and content related questions. I also helped them to
complete computer-based genetics activities and worksheets in which they used computer
programs such as ClustalX, FigTree, and Gene Explorer to simulate real-world genetic
concepts.
Being a TA has been one of the most valuable opportunities of my college career for
several reasons. It has first and foremost been an incredible platform for growth - I feel that I
have grown as a student, as a teacher-figure, as a leader, and as a person. My capability to
better fulfill my role in all of these capacities has grown, as has my confidence in myself and my
ability to continue to grow and improve. I have developed much more refined time management
skills, and a greater ability to balance all responsibilities in my life without sacrificing the quality
of my work in any area. I have gained a better understanding of how to teach others effectively,
and in turn how to personally learn and study more effectively as a student. Finally, teaching
genetics has allowed me to gain a deeper and more thorough and comprehensive
understanding of genetics content. This is knowledge that has extended to many of the other
STEM courses that I am taking or have taken, and has served to bring together several
semesters of knowledge into a more cohesive and singular schema. I think that this is
something that every student strives to achieve; it is one of the more elusive parts of education
in any field or major. I feel that my experience as a genetics TA has helped me to achieve this,
at least in part, and I know that it will serve me well as I continue my education in medical
school and begin my career as a physician.