Connecting With Other GA/TAs

On June 29, 2014, in Being a GA/TA, GATAcademy, Monday Motivation, by gregorynpaziuk

Every Monday from April to June, the GATA Network has been sharing advice on how to make your summer productive. In our final post of the series, we discuss ways to connect with your fellow GA/TAs.

Teamwork and collaboration: we here at the GATA Network are on about those ideas all the time. As a result, the phrase “building a sense of community” gets thrown around this blog a lot. We use it to refer to the feeling we want our students to have in our classrooms. We also use it to refer to the connections we make with our fellow instructors. The point in both is to recognize that there is a social element to the the learning process and even scholarship in general. And while we may be running out of creative ways to say “No scholar is an island”, that doesn’t mean it’s any less true.

More on communities:

Sometimes teaching can be just about as lonely, isolating, and thankless as those angsty teenage years we like to forget ever happened. Before the stress of student-teacher life becomes debilitating, reach out to one of the many supports available to you here at UWindsor. Chances are you’re not the only one with questions, concerns, frustrations, etc.

Connections Matter

Teaching and learning are largely driven by communities of practice. That is to say that what we do in the classroom and even in our self-directed learning is highly influenced by what’s worked for others before us. As more and more emphasis is placed on student-centred learning and more and more research is done on identifying student learning outcomes, the need to share best practices has intensified in higher education. One of the benefits, then, of reaching out to fellow teachers/student teachers/students is that it strengthens our understanding of what we are doing well to facilitate learning in universities.

The other benefit of connecting to your local and global learning communities that is alluded to above is strictly humanitarian. The myths of the “Sage on the Stage” and the solitary genius have seemingly made it unthinkable that a teacher or student teacher might need some help now and then. That’s just silly. We all could use a helping hand or an attentive ear now and then, especially when it comes to difficulties in our work.

Not all of us are social butterflies. That’s okay. There are lots of ways to get involved in teaching and learning communities of all types and sizes.

Attend FGS GA/TA Orientation

Every Fall Semester, the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) hosts a crash-course information session for new Graduate Assistants and Teaching Assistants. The GA/TA Orientation usually includes overviews of the university’s GA/TA policies, an introduction from GA/TA union representatives, and short presentations from some of the other student support service groups on campus. This year’s event will take place on September 3rd from 3pm-5pm in Erie Hall 1120. Visit the FGS website for more updates as they become available.

Save the Date for GATAcademy

If your planning to attend the FGS’s orientation, and you really should be, then you should also attend as many workshops as possible at GATAcademy. Also taking place on September 3rd from 9am-2:30pm, GATAcademy is an entire day of personal and professional development workshops designed especially for GAs and TAs, for whom registration is  100% FREE. So there’s no cost for GA/TAs to participate, and it’s entirely up to you how many workshops you attend. Learn about teaching with technology in the classroom, how to run labs and tutorials, the differences to consider when teaching to different cultures, and so on. GATAcademy is also a great opportunity to network with fellow GA/TAs and build your own peer support group. All that and a FREE lunch. Make sure you register for this event.

You may have also noticed our call for volunteers. Whether you’ve been to the event before or this is your first time, volunteering is an opportunity to experience GATAcademy from behind the scenes while also learning and sharing with your fellow GA/TAs.

GATA Learning Communities

Imagine a weekly support group where you and your fellow GA/TAs meet to discuss the issues your facing in your classrooms and swap strategies to overcome them. The GATA Network and the Centre for Teaching and Learning can help you make that happen. The Network will meet regularly with GATA Learning Communities anywhere on campus, whether it’s to brush up on a specific aspect of teaching or just to discuss the challenges of everyday student-teaching. Contact us at to set up a learning community for you and your colleagues.

Other Communities

There are many other groups on campus that aren’t exclusively for GA/TA teaching development, but they can provide support, training, and even the chance to mentor others.

You can also find more opportunities to meet, share, and learn with your GA/TA cohort at the Centre for Teaching and Learning.


(Scholarly) Parodies for All

On June 27, 2014, in Being a GA/TA, Laughs, We Made It: It's Friday, by gregorynpaziuk

One of the reasons we follow sites like PhD Comics is because we’re of the mind that scholars take themselves too seriously. Seriously, just Google Image “Professors” and look at all those serious faces. And then look at this Shakespeare face made out of books. Which one do you prefer? Of course it’s the Shakespeare made of books! Scholarly parodies like the New Spice | Study Like A Scholar video are an important part of making sure that, as scholars, we don’t forget that learning is supposed to be fun.

But before the HBLL Multimedia Crew parodied deodorant commercials, a group of grade schoolers from Milwaukee converted Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” into “Scholar Ladies“. Clever, right?


And speaking of HBLL, have you seen their other video, “Gotta Be Scholar“? Anything that extols the virtues of quality time in the library in a comical way is alright in our books.


There’s a scholarly purpose to all of these shenanigans, too. There are scholars out there studying the way people respond to comedy in order to learn more about human psychology. Read Richard Restak’s article “Laughter and the Brain” to get a sense of what researchers are discovering about the way we laugh and what it means.

Happy Friday!


Finding Your Workspace

On June 23, 2014, in Being a GA/TA, Dilemmas, Monday Motivation, by gregorynpaziuk

Every Monday from April to June, the GATA Network will be sharing advice on how to make your summer productive. This week we offer our suggestions on how to improve your working quarters (or go about making some).

For decades, scholarship on teaching and learning has suggested that educational spaces need more attention. For instance, Mauk (2006) argues that “buildings constitute beliefs about appropriate practices” (218).  The power of any environment to condition and influence learning, for better or for worse, is recognized in thoughtful classroom design, instructional strategies, and a number of other educational choices. But doesn’t that power also apply to our workspaces as student teachers, too?

"Soul Crushing", courtesy of

“Soul Crushing”, courtesy of

Much has been written about (read: griped about) the office conditions of the average GA/TA. More often than not, student teachers and research assistants are huddled into shared offices, lacking windows, under staircases, Harry Potter style. Some of us don’t even have offices. Others have offices that feel like crowded dungeons. Both are equally depressing, but there are ways to improve them. A long line of GA/TAs before you have figured out how to make these spaces work (or find spaces to do work).

This isn’t the first time the Network has taken up the ergonomics flag. No doubt you all took our advice months ago and modernized your office. Even so, the following bears some repeating:

Convert to the standing desk. Researchers argue that there are multiple potential benefits to converting your desk into a standing desk, including potential health benefits and a 10% boost in productivity. Most importantly, it’s relatively inexpensive to convert.

Try the exercise ball chair. As we warned before, the jury is still out on whether these chairs solve more problems than they cause. Educate your self on the pros and cons and determine whether core-work at work is right for you.

Have you jazzed-up your cubicle yet? Because we’re assuming your “office” is actually a cubicle, and everyone knows cubicles are the worst.  Melanie Pinola has some interesting recommendations. Like have you thought about bringing your own furniture?

Other office hacks. Ilya Pozin’s list  of little things you can do to make your office better, entitled “25 Office Hacks You Need To Know“, is still the best list of office hacks we’ve seen.


But what about those of us that don’t even have a cubicle to call our own? Or what about those of us looking for an office on the go? You can find a workspace that works for you just about anywhere you are if you consider the following.

The Coffee Shop: A Scholar’s Temporary Office

All this advice on how to spruce up your office is useless if you don’t have one, or if the office is beyond saving. In such cases, your local coffee shop will do. We’re not suggesting you become one of those phonies that they make fun of on Family Guy – the type that sits in a café all day with their computer under the pretense that they are doing real “work” when they actually aren’t. The thing to note here is that cafés are, for all intents and purposes, quite serviceable as temporary offices. Buying a coffee is essentially like renting space here. Some people even find they are more productive working in caffeine emporiums. Note: Here at UWindsor, the Green Bean Café sells bottomless coffee. Bottomless. Coffee.

The App Crowd: Creating Office Ambiance

Maybe you want the café feel without going to the café? It turns out there’s a website called Coffitivity that streams coffee shop background noises on a continuous loop for those of you that feel you work better amid that unique type of chatter. Add that to soundrown, the ambient noise app we’ve discussed here before (which also has a coffee house option), and you’ll have the right soundtrack for any GA/TA office mood.


Mauk, J. (2006). “Location, location, location: The “real” (e)states of being, writing, and thinking in composition. In P. Vandenberg, S. Hum, and J. Clary-Lemon (Eds), Relations, locations, positions: Composition theory for writing teachers. (pp.198-225). Urbana, Il: NCTE.


Good Idea/Bad Idea

On June 20, 2014, in Laughs, Think About It, UWindsor, We Made It: It's Friday, by gregorynpaziuk

“Good ideas are a dime a dozen,” said someone completely misled about what classifies as a good idea. We all know that good ideas are far more rare. Good ideas in the classroom, doubly so. But how can you tell the difference between a good idea and a bad idea? Let’s practice with some 50/50 cases, shall we?

  • Let’s start with an easy guide. Steven Spielberg is a pretty good judge of what’s a good idea and what’s a bad idea, his bank account might say. For that reason, it would probably be highly educational to watch the “Good Idea/Bad Idea” shorts from Spielberg’s critically acclaimed Animaniacs.
  • Whether it’s real or not, not many people are ready to change their lifestyles to tackle climate change. For instance, not many of us would trade our car/bus for a nice bike ride to school each day. Though maybe we would if we were getting paid, like some workers are in France. Care to predict the success of that project?
  • Now let’s think about education specifically. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) tend to polarize opinions among educators. Some say they are the way of the future and a means to better educating the masses. Others say they’ve got more problems than they’re worth. Anant Agarwal of edX obviously believes the former. What do you believe?

And now, as a reward for all of your hard work above, here’s a funny comic about a young Ghengis Khan.

Happy Friday!


Every Monday from April to June, the GATA Network will be sharing advice on how to make your summer productive. This week we talk about the importance of working on your self and your craft.

Teachers are often likened to hermits, renegades, and lone wolves even, in that they supposedly like to go their own way. The problem is that no teacher is an island, or to use another cliche, we’re all in this together. That means we have a lot to learn by sharing ideas, discussing learning strategies, and maybe even working in teams. You can develop your skills as a student teacher and learner a lot further by attending workshops and joining working groups to take ownership of your professional development.

More often than not, though, personal development is the last thing on our minds. That may be because that other “PD” – professional development – is so much more justifiable. “I can make time for this if it’s going to make my job easier”, we say, or “Taking a few hours to learn a skill for my trade makes sense.” And if you follow the Network at all, you know there are always opportunities for professional development (see “CTL Events” and “GATAcademy“). So how do we get personal with our development?

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

What Does Personal Development Even Mean?

The main difference between personal development and professional development is that the former implies working towards a better life, while the latter implies developing skills for the workplace. It’s not that the two are mutually exclusive, but personal development acknowledges that sometimes the best things you can do for yourself have no immediate payoff, or don’t offer a credential, or may not even be marketable. Yes, a wise student teacher is one that thinks about how the skills he/she is developing in the classroom translate to his/her future career, but a healthy and happy student teacher is one that thinks about what kind of person they want to be. Because you don’t need to know how to play the guitar to be a teacher, but maybe you want to know anyway. You also don’t need to know photoshop to be a psychologist, but maybe that’s a skill you’ve always wanted. These goals fall into the realm of personal development.  They’re not unprofessional per se, they just don’t necessarily attach themselves to your professional goals.

The following are but a few examples of how to go about your professional development this summer:

Take a Class Outside of School

Imagine a class where you aren’t graded/grading, possibly where you get to eat your own work. The City of Windsor’s community centres offer boat loads of cheap classes on just about every topic imaginable (including cooking). The offerings change every season and differ between locations. The best way to keep track of what’s being offered is to browse the city’s Activity Guide. Offered this summer: sushi classes, first aid training, canoeing in Ojibway, and much more.

Watch Some TED Talks

This sounds so 2010, but there are still a lot of informative, stimulating, innovative talks being published on TED. It’s pretty widely accepted that the golden rule of personal development is to ensure that you are always educating your self. The “on what” is less important, just as long as you are widening your perspective. Its range and variety is really what makes TED so worthwhile.

The App Crowd

Speaking of online resources…. As long as they don’t take the good, honest hard work out of it, there are a number of apps/websites out there that can make your personal development journey a lot smoother. But Lifehack already wrote an article on those.

Play Ball, or Other Sports

Maybe all of those BodyBreak commercials worked on us, but there’s something to be said for the curative effects of being active. The problem is, if you’re like most GA/TAs, you usually don’t make time to work up a sweat during the school year. Not forgetting that self-education is the key to personal development, it’s worth pointing out that being active may actually be the best way to build all those transferable, CV-able skills people are always talking about (e.g., communications skills, leadership skills, etc.), according to the Canadian Council on Learning. The city’s Activity Guide has some options available this summer for sports too, but don’t forget about intramural sports at UWindsor.

Make it Count: Build a Routine

The most common reason that personal development stalls is that we don’t capitalize on the gains we make. We take dance lessons but never go out dancing. We start going to the gym every morning but stop once the Fall semester starts. If something isn’t working or meshing with the goals you’ve set for yourself, don’t be afraid to throw it out. That said, most of the activities you’ll take up as part of your personal development will require some sort of routine/practice/schedule to start offering real benefits.


See Also:




The internet is a strange treasure chest for a burnt-out scholar looking to take a break. Mostly, if you dream it, Google can find it. Other times all one needs to do is cast a net into the social media sea and pull out what everyone else is talking about. This is what our friends were talking about this week:

  • If you’re anything like us, you woke up today and said, “Jeeeze, I wish I knew more about China.” Well, why not start by learning about Chinese “nail houses“. Preview: Imagine you lived in an apartment building smack in the middle of a six-lane highway.
  • Our literary friends have been posting all about the Penguin Cup. Yes, Penguin (the publisher) has amassed teams of famous writers from 16 countries to compete in a faux world cup for literary supremacy. Germany has Karl Marx playing on the left wing. England has William Shakespeare playing central midfield. The whole thing is just fantastic.
  • Windsor-Essex boosters already know about the YKNOT Windsor-Essex campaign, aimed at retaining the region’s bright young minds. Why not give them a Thunderclap?

Happy Friday!


Every Monday from April to June, the GATA Network will be sharing advice on how to make your summer productive. This week we breakdown how to start thinking about and finally write your teaching philosophy.

Last May, the New York Times’ Opinion Pages ran a very honest piece by Professor Gary Gutting, entitled “Why Do I Teach?” As the title implies, and as is no doubt natural for a professor of philosophy, the article catalogued Gutting’s motivation as a teacher and his views on the bigger purpose of education. Some are very political, while others are more personal. Some you may agree with, while others may seem outlandish. Regardless of the form, and even the content, the gesture of Gutting’s article was most important, because anyone who teaches should know why they teach.

To restate plainly, even if you only ever lead discussion groups, or if the majority of your time is spent marking papers, or no matter how inconsequential you might think your role in the classroom to be as a GA/TA, you are someone that impacts student learning, and you should reflect on what motivates you, what your strengths are, and how you view your impact as a teacher. All teachers should, and many do so by writing it down. Like Gutting, many teachers write a statement of sorts that highlights all of these elements, often described as a ” statement of teaching philosophy”.

Whether as part of a teaching dossier, or as something you pin to your wall to remind you why you do what you do, a teaching philosophy is a powerful statement of your teaching identity. Just like James Paul Gee’s concept of “identity kits“, your teaching identity is the set of beliefs, experiences, and abilities that you bring to the classroom. A teaching philosophy captures those aspects of yourself, transcending the discrete learning objectives of individual courses and outlining your vision of successful student learning, specifically in terms of the actions you take to facilitate it.

Image created by Britt Gow  in Tagxedo.

Image created by Britt Gow in Tagxedo.

Define “Statement”

The term “philosophy statement” might encourage some to think of a leather-bound book, but its length and depth are really determined by how you intend to use it. If you’re submitting it to a set of reviewers looking to determine your suitability for a teaching position, that statement of teaching philosophy might be a few pages. If you’re just trying to work through your thoughts for your own benefit, your statement might be no longer than a paragraph. It might even be something conceptual, like the free association in the wordle above. The important part is the reflection, during which you’ll examine your teaching practices from the perspective of what you know and feel about successful teaching and learning.

How Do We Write One?

The good thing is that there are so many opinions on what a teaching philosophy should look like that there are plenty of helpful guides floating around in cyber space for us to draw from. Below are a collection of a few helpful links:

  • The Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation (CTSI) at the University of Toronto provides a helpful guide on constructing a “Statement of Teaching Philosophy“. Pay special attention to the guide’s “10 Steps to Completion” and its advice on “Avoiding common pitfalls”. Hint: show and tell.
  • Because they’ve helped so many people work on their teaching dossiers, the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Saskatchewan has a lot of sample teaching philosophy statements.
  • The University of Western’s Teaching Support Centre offers a short and sweet guide in “Writing Your ‘Teaching Philosophy‘”, combining wisdom from teachers of all disciplines.
  • Like most things today, there’s a module for this. The University of Minnesota’s Center for Teaching and Learning has developed a self-paced tutorial that breaks down the writing process into steps.

We’ve written about constructing teaching philosophies before. Networker Melanie Santarossa offered her tips for thinking about your teaching philosophy:

  • Try to keep a teaching journal. Write about the activities you are bringing into the classroom, how those work, and what you would like to change. A teaching journal is also a great way to think about what you should be bringing into the classroom, based on how your students respond and or interact to your activities. From here you can easily see a theme to your teaching.
  • Use mid-course and end-of-term feedback to guide you. Feedback is a great way to see what it is about your class that students take away with them. This will help you to see what students appreciate about your teaching space.
  • Ask someone you consider a mentor (or one of the CTL staff) to watch you teach. Having someone sit in on the class as a student can really give you a true glimpse from the back of the classroom (and one you might not receive from feedback).

Melanie noted that a teaching philosophy is in part a statement of how you treat your classroom and also an ongoing narrative of your ever-evolving teaching style – documenting your journey as a teacher learning “what works for you and what doesn’t”. A strong teaching philosophy makes it evident that the your views on teaching and learning have been affected by specific experiences, trials, and learning moments. Don’t just announce yourself as a rock-star teacher…demonstrate your effective teaching skills with examples.

Still unsure how to go about crafting your own teaching philosophy statement? Don’t be afraid to seek consultation from CTL staff.


Earlier this week, we posted the sixth installment in our “Productive Summer” series, which discussed how academics can benefit from being unacademic every so often. But if you really follow the blog, you’d know that we take breaks pretty much every Friday. Sure, we try to keep these posts “vaguely academic”, but sometimes, after a week of preparing manuscripts for publication, or after a week of back-to-back-to-back seminars, or after a particularly bad set of office hours, you just don’t feel like being all scholarly on a Friday morning. Watch how we paint these time wasters in a scholarly tone:

  • Although, how could it not be scholarly to read the works of T.S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson, or Gertrude Stein? Maybe if the Paris Review had reimagined them as the sorts of incoherent texts you get from your friends in the tender hours of the night after all the bars close. It turns out the Review’s Jesse Graynor does a lot of reimagining.
  • Sticking with language but returning to more serious subject matter, did you know that the Canadian government loves to talk grammar? The Language Portal of Canada ( provides pretty extensive guidelines for language use (in both English and French) and links to some useful free training resources. For instance, here’s how the Canadian government recommends best using gender-neutral language.
  • In order to balance the language with some art, we scoured the internet for the latest in pop culture and cutting edge artistic vision. Upon realizing how much work scouring actually is, we settled on telling you about this collection of NHL logos redesigned using Simpsons characters.

We warned you these Friday lists have scant scholarly value. Don’t make that face. Okay, fine. Well here’s a Wikipedia history of the Latke-Hamantash Debate.



Taking a Break from Academia

On June 3, 2014, in Being a GA/TA, Laughs, Monday Motivation, by gregorynpaziuk

Every Monday from April to June, the GATA Network will be sharing advice on how to make your summer productive. This week we discuss the importance of taking a break from academia every now and then.

tumblr_lhruse2NFE1qbtchoo1_400At least four times per day, you’re told about a ba-zillion things you should be doing to build your career as an academic. Even we here at the Network are guilty of decree-like statements about what you should be doing, whose work you should be reading, and which workshops you should be attending.  This can be especially difficult for those of GAs and TAs to whom an assistantship is just a way to pay tuition, but it’s just as hard to those that do dream of a career in academia. Trying to find time to cross off every pre-requisite on the list of “Becoming a Scholarly Teacher” can take its toll. That’s why every good productive summer takes some healthy unproductivity. Translation: even committed and serious teachers and learners need a break from scholarly work, and the summer is the best time to break.

Like all good things, this break is a fine balancing act between leisure and work. We’re not suggesting you abandon your project list altogether, or that you don’t need to think about your personal/professional development. It’s just that finding time to recharge your batteries is equally as important as furthering your career. But what exactly should you be finding time for?

Read Just Because

They say leisure reading is as good as taking seven mental health days. Who exactly? Lots of people. What better place to do some reading than Leddy Library? Have you ever strolled through Leddy’s shelves unobstructed by Fall/Winter crowds and had your pick of any book that strikes your fancy? You haven’t lived! Leddy Library is a reader’s paradise this time of year. But if you can’t get past the memories of exam-times past, you could always visit your local branch of the Windsor Public Library, which also has a wide collection of titles and offers some pretty cool programming.

Take A Staycation

A staycation sounds like something a middle-aged parent of three might recommend, but especially on a GA/TA’s budget, taking some time off to spend around the house can be very satisfying. Just make sure that you warn friends and family that, while you may be present physically, your mind and spirit will be on vacation. This will help to maintain the illusion of distance from your scholarly life.

Embrace a Media Blackout

True, so many of us have made a regular media survey a part of our daily lives. Equally as many of us get anxious if we don’t check our email inbox every hour. There is, however, a restorative power to logging off for short periods (say, a week?) and ignoring push notifications. If you have ever experienced the late-semester student email onslaught, you’ll appreciate how blissful it can be to not spend hours each day replying to emails. And do you really need to become embroiled in yet another Twitter war?

There’s So Much To Do In Windsor This Summer

So much of our time during the semester is devoted completely to study – thinking about school, being at school, walking to and from school – that we often forget about the world outside school. Not the proverbial “real world” people are always telling you about, but the world outside campus. Specifically the UWindsor campus. Windsorites might tell you differently, but there is a lot to explore in the Windsor region.

Visit Farmers’ Markets. Don’t fact check us on this, but Windsor-Essex has more farmers’ markets per capita than anywhere in the universe. Many of these are actually within Windsor, along bus routes, and possibly in your neighbourhood. There are so many blogs written by battle-worn academics that tout the importance of eating healthy. Maybe this is the summer you recharge with fresh local food?

Enjoy the Summer Festivals. From now until September, Windsor will celebrate a different festival almost every week. That means La Salle’s Strawberry Festival to kick off the growing season, Carousel of Nations to celebrate Windsor’s multiculturalism, SummerFest to fulfill your carnival craving, and much much more. Find an extensive guide to all of Windsor-Essex’s many festivals at

Why Not Visit Detroit? One of the many benefits of living in Windsor is being a stone’s-throw away from Detroit. A quick tunnel-bus ride will take you downtown, from where you might catch a Tiger’s baseball game, visit the Detroit Institute of Arts, or even kayak in some of Detroit’s many rivers. Check out for more information.