Organizing Large Courses: Information for Head Teaching Fellows

by Nancy Sultan and the Bok Center Staff; updated 2012

I. Pre-semester Organization

  1. Meet with the professor to plan strategies, either the semester before or during the summer.
  2. Consult the Gen. Ed. Guide for Instructors (it's useful even if you're not in a Gen. Ed. course) and the Teaching Fellows Handbook.
  3. Staffing should be planned a year ahead (if possible), leaving room for additions, so--make a list of committed TFs, alternates, and prospectives, with phone numbers.
  4. Organize Paper Topic committees & work ahead so that lists of potential topics are available from the first section meeting.
  5. Establish Policies on Grading even before the first section meeting, and have them in writing for your TF's files. For suggestions on procedure in large courses, read On Grading Exams(available on the Bok Center site's Head TF page).
  6. Meet with or contact people at the Gen. Ed. office (if applicable), Classrooms Office (or Science Center Scheduling Office), and the Bok Center so they know you and you know them. Make sure you know when all the deadlines are.
  7. Arrange a room for staff meetings. Money for lunches is provided by the Gen. Ed., or by the department. If you have a large number of TFs, try to get the meetings catered. A room in one of the Harvard houses can be be arranged, especially if one of the TFs is affiliated with a centrally located house. Often a department meeting room can be used if you schedule it enough in advance.
  8. If you use a sourcebook, contact Gen. Ed. or the Library on how to prepare one. It's very important for deadlines, copyright laws, organization, etc. Remember, copyright permission sometimes takes months to obtain. Make sure all is ready enough in advance so that students can pick them up at the beginning of the semester.
  9. If you plan to use films, slides, or audio in lecture, call IMS and make arrangements. In addition, IMS will, upon request, tape lectures free of charge. This is helpful for both students and TFs who miss a class.

II. During the Semester

  1. Shortly before the terms starts, meet individually with all confirmed TFs to get to know them. Discuss veterans' last performance evaluations. Make sure they all have a copy of the Gen. Ed. Guide for Instructors or (if the department puts one out) the relevant handbook. Discuss teaching ideologies.
  2. Weekly staff meetings (preferably over lunch) are essential. They should be about 1½ hours. Keep minutes. Run it like section--i.e., with room for discussion by everyone. Leave time for TFs to discuss their individual problems. Inform the group of the agenda for the next week. The professor should be present for at least part of these meetings.
  3. Tell exam and paper committees when you will need final copies and make sure they have plenty of time to work.
  4. Present all exams and assignments to the TFs at a staff meeting before giving them to students, in case they have suggestions or changes.
  5. Absences. Make sure all TFs understand that they should attend lecture every week. If they miss, they must get notes or listen to a tape. If a TF must miss section, he/she should notify the head TF in time for a substitute to take over. A TF should never just leave a note on the door of the classroom unless there is a sudden emergency and the head TF or professor can't be reached. If a long-term absence is foreseen, arrangements for a permanent replacement may be necessary. Keep a file of people who might be able to take over.
  6. For Exams: Double-check room assignments and proctors one week in advance. For large Core courses and some others, proctors will be needed for the midterm as well as the final. During exams, have TFs volunteer to make themselves available to the students for questions (at least for the first minutes of the exam and near the end).
  7. Make-up Exams: Arrange a time and a room for a make-up midterm. Have all students provide a note from their senior tutor/advisor requesting a make-up and providing a valid reason. No student is automatically entitled to a make-up, even if their tutor writes on their behalf. For the final exam, you are not in charge of scheduling a make-up, the FAS Exams Office is responsible. Have students call them directly.
  8. Midterm Grade Reports: Grade sheets are sent to course heads around midterm time for freshmen. If a student is making unsatisfactory progress, a special form for the senior tutor should be filed by his/her TF and sent to the registrar. These forms are available at the registrar's office and should be kept in the course file.

III. General

  1. Establish Policies. Decide early how exams/papers will be graded (manner and point values), what to do about late papers, missed exams, etc. A consistent and fair, across-theboard grading system is essential. (On Grading Exams is very useful for large courses. The Bok Center distributes it from its Head TF webpage.) Staff meetings should be used to make sure all sections are running at the same pace and covering the same materials. Very important: have policies in writing.
  2. Delegate Authority. Involve TFs in exam/paper creation by forming committees. Have a veteran TF chair, when possible.
  3. Be Accessible. Communicate with fellow TFs and the professor, and arrange office hours at the Gen. Ed. offices or some other convenient place. Make it known when you do not w ant to be called/visited too. Remember your own needs.
  4. Teacher Training. TFs are training for future academic careers. Inform them that they are expected to visit another section during the term so they can experience other teaching methods. Suggest that they be filmed by the Bok Center. Deal with any teaching or student problems promptly and discreetly. If a TF is having problems, you can refer him/her to the Bok Center (for teaching or grading problems) or to the GSAS Dean for Students (for personal problems). If several students complain about a certain TF, you should investigate.
  5. Responsibilities to Students. Remind all TFs that every effort must be made to insure that their needs are being met fairly and adequately.
  6. Responsibilities to other TFs: For the course to run smoothly, the atmosphere must remain open and friendly. Communication and respect are crucial. When a TF is having trouble with another TF, or with a student (or vice versa), the head TF is the first person who should be consulted, and then, the professor.

IV. Record Keeping

Keep in a safe location:

  • Master copies of all source material.
  • List of key people and phone numbers regularly used, such as Gen. Ed. or Department Administrator, Classrooms Office, Facilities Maintenance, Assistants to Masters of Houses, Bok Center, etc.
  • Sets of exams and written assignments.
  • Record of section meeting times over years.
  • Printout of grading activity.
  • Current deadlines (also provided by Gen. Ed. office for its courses).
  • Facilities available to TFs and students, such as the Writing Center, Bok Center, Bureau of Study Counsel, IMS, etc.
  • All correspondence.
  • Notes on section topics and teaching ideas from TFs.
  • Remember: Make back-up copies of all electronically-stored materials.