GESO, UOC run parent forums

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While many Yale families invited cousins and grandparents to their homes last week, several families of Undergraduate Organizing Committee members hosted alumni, prospective Yalies, current students and their parents at forums to discuss teaching at Yale.

Members of the UOC and the Graduate Employees and Students Organization spoke during the fall break at UOC members’ homes in Chicago, Miami and San Francisco about challenges faced by undergraduates and graduate students in Yale classrooms.

The UOC and GESO planned forums in seven U.S. cities to discuss GESO’s recent “Blackboard Blues” report on graduate student teaching at Yale. The groups held two forums before the break and will hold the remaining forums in Boston this Sunday and at a Connecticut location, to be determined, later this month.

“Blackboard Blues,” a response to the academic review released by the Committee on Yale College Education last spring, says graduate students often teach outside their areas of expertise. The report also says many graduate student teaching assistants work without office space or other accommodations such as child care for their families.

John and Mary Felstiner, parents of Sarah Felstiner ’91 and Alek Felstiner ’04, hosted the San Francisco Bay Area forum at their home Nov. 24. John Felstiner said both he and his wife taught courses at Yale in the fall semester of 1990, and he also taught during the 2002 fall semester.

“This sort of event happens all too seldom, if ever, especially concerning places where the teaching is assumed or declared to be excellent,” he said.

Felstiner said prospective Yalies, current students, parents, and two Yale graduate students participated in an “intense” discussion about the nature of undergraduate classes and the conditions of teaching.

“I think the high school seniors, in those two hours, moved from simply assuming that teaching just ‘happens’ as a matter of course to recognizing what personal and professional concerns might really be involved in their teachers’ work,” he said.

Will Tanzman ’04, who spoke at the Chicago forum, also held Nov. 24, and who participates in Yale’s Teacher Preparation program, said he thinks he has a basic and amateur sense of what good teaching should be. Tanzman said he told the Chicago audience he has received both “good” and “bad” teaching at Yale. He said he thinks “bad teaching” is a result of graduate teachers who teach outside their subject areas or do not have much teaching experience.

“The kind of questions they’ll say are, ‘What did the professor say?’ or ‘What did the book say?'” Tanzman said.

UOC spokesman Josh Eidelson ’06 said the forums have given students and parents an opportunity to “talk constructively” about challenges facing Yale University and other American universities in this century.

GESO member Carlos Aramayo GRD ’04 said he spoke at the Washington, D.C. forum Nov. 20 about his personal experience as a teaching assistant. Aramayo said he has been a T.A. for six courses, but only three were in the area of his specialization.

Eidelson said the UOC hoped the forums would encourage parents to contact administrators with their concerns. UOC member Zachary Schwartz-Weinstein ’04 said a number of parents who attended the New York City forum Nov. 16 at his parent’s home seemed inclined to contact the administration.

Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said he has not received any letters or e-mails from parents. He said he did not know anything about the UOC teaching forums.

Felstiner said members of the Yale Club of San Francisco have asked that the groups hold a second forum over Winter Break.

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