Two TFs Make Students' Lives Pleasant
The night before every Chemistry 30 hourly, Richard Goodman '91 paces the halls of Cabot Library.
Goodman is not an anxious pre-med worried about his orgo grades; he is a teaching fellow in the course. And he wanders through the study cubicles not to find research materials but to help students understand the class' difficult material.
Goodman, who won last year's Levenson Prize for excellence in teaching, is many students' dream. He is a section leader who cares deeply about his students, who prepares well for class and, whatever his lab schedule, is always available for undergraduate concerns.
Students say these qualities are just what they often fail to find in their other TFs. In a Faculty which does not train its section leaders in the art of teaching, the excellent ones stand out.
Both Goodman and David Bear '91, a Physics TF who was the runner-up for last year's Levenson award, are famous among undergraduate science majors.
Testimonials to their excellence are not difficult to find.
"Rick was basically the one who taught everyone everything," says Ari E. Miller '96. "He was absolutely essential."
"I would have died without Rick," says Joel S. Orlina '96. "He made what would have been academic hell less painful and more tolerable."
"Rick was just really into the material," says Brigette M. Roberts '96.
So what makes a good TF? What should other section leaders look to emulate in Goodman and Bear's performances?
The answers are scarcely surprising.
The first thing students seek is accessibility and a commitment to helping undergraduates.
Bear, for instance, had "24-hour" office hours the week before the Physics 15b final. And he hosted weekly study sessions that often went until 2 a.m.
"[Bear's] greatest attribute as a teacher is that he cares very much about students," says Angelina Zappia '96.
Miller says Goodman spent an inordinate amount of time on the class, both through preparation and office hours.
While many TFs hoped to separate their class time from time spent on research, Goodman was always on call, Miller says. "Rick's lab was basically open."
Students have even expressed their gratitude for such care through tangible gifts.
Last spring two students in 15b arrived at Bear's office with a work and cooked him an authentic Korean meal in order to express their gratitude.
And students from Goodman's Chem 30 class presented him with a TV and VCR as a wedding present.
The other attributes undergraduates seek in a TF are no surprise, either. Students welcome preparation and clarity in section.
Patrick Purdon '96 commended Bear for his ability to explain and organize the key points in the course.
"He brought out a lot of sophisticated examples," he says. "That's one of the neat things about Dave.
"[Bear] is just pretty amazing," says Zappia. "He just had a knack for knowing what kind of material students would find a problem with."
Goodman says that knowing the material cold, relating to students, and ensuring that teaching occurs in an organized fashion are essential if one hopes to be a good TF.
His ability to work well with students is what makes undergraduates like him, he says.
"It's sort of a matter of being relaxed," Goodman says. The second year chemistry graduate student says that he goes out of his way to talk to students.
Bear, who advises other TFs as a teaching consultant for the Bok Center, says that trying to understand student concerns is integral to being a good TF. "You have to be very, very sensitive as a teacher," Bear says. "Everyone has a different way of thinking. I try to be very patient."
Experience as a student and teacher are also helpful, says Bear, who was an undergraduate course assistant at Harvard.
He says that being a successful TF requires a great deal of dedication. "I probably spend more time than anyone else I know on section," he says. "I'm willing to take any student who's willing to learn."