The Head TF Role
Head Teaching Fellows wear many different hats, and the kinds of duties they are asked to perform (and the degree of autonomy they will experience while performing them) will vary by course and in accordance with the preferences of and their relationship with their course head. Here are some of the most common facets of the Head TF role, and some guidance about how you may wish to think about your priorities in each of these domains.
Instructor. Though a Head TF appointment is distinct from the appointments held by other TFs, it is, still, first and foremost a teaching appointment. As you navigate your various duties and relationships—with your course head, your fellow TFs, and (of course) your (and their) students, it is worth pausing from time to time to reflect on how the approaches you are taking, the decisions you are making, and the ways in which you are communicating are contributing to the overall pedagogical goals and environment of your course.
Project Manager. A large lecture course is a complicated organism, with lots of moving parts. Particularly large courses may even feel more like two courses—a graduate seminar for the teaching staff embedded within an undergraduate course. How can you remain a couple of weeks ahead of your fellow instructors, anticipating their needs or logistical challenges? Where will you turn for good data about how the course is really running? How can you best support your course head, in a way that allows them to focus on their role in the course without encouraging them to “check out” on issues to which they ought to be attentive?
Advocate. When a student or colleague has some feedback for someone else in the course’s ecosystem, how can you facilitate that conversation constructively? What will you do with a student’s concerns about their TF, the course head, or the course materials? If one of your TFs would benefit from additional resources or mentoring, how will you provide it? If you feel that something in the course could be improved, how will you make your voice heard? What is the best way to “right size” these kinds of feedback?
Mentor. Though you may not feel particularly “senior” to your fellow TFs, one of the most important roles you can play is as a facilitator of their professional development. The onus is not on you to make everyone on your staff a more reflective and effective teacher—but you are in an ideal position to connect them to resources that can. Will you work with the course head to provide your teaching staff with workshops (e.g. on responding to student writing) that will contribute to their professional development and help you norm expectations within your course? Will you encourage (or even insist) that your TFs be observed by a trained teaching consultant for their own formative feedback? Will you encourage your course head to collect midterm feedback?
Judge. Unfortunately, disputes and differences of opinion do sometimes arise between students, between students and their instructor(s), and even within the teaching staffs of courses. As a general rule, as the Head TF you should be passing these “upstairs” to your course head promptly in every possible instance. But there likely will be times when you find yourself in the position to mediate a few of these disagreements yourself. (It’s often the Head TF’s job to be the person of last resort, for example, when a student wants to change sections—or, for that matter, when a TF needs some extra help or coverage from their colleagues.) How will you resolve disagreements in ways that are fair and efficient without being merely “expedient?” How can you make such moments occasions for learning as well as mere conflict resolution?
As a Head TF, it's especially important that you be on the same page as your coursehead with regard to how you will share duties with him/her—as well as among your fellow TFs. Who will update the Canvas site? Draft each problem set? Write the midterm? We suggest using our pre-term planner as a way to start the conversation within your teaching staff.
A Semester-Long Head TF Timeline
Many Head TFs discover that their role pivots quite noticeably at different moments in the term, as different items on their checklist assume greater and lesser importance. We've developed a timeline/checklist that will help you think ahead and keep track of the many different logistical and pedagogical responsibilities that may be on your plate.
Help with all things Canvas (Academic Technology for the FAS)
The Disability Access Office (formerly AEO)