Step 16: Get Oriented

One of the signposts of starting a new job is the orientation, and Oxy’s orientation for new faculty was last Thursday. I was shocked to realize that I have been to at least eight orientations in the last ten years – both as a participant and as an organizer – so I thought it would be fun to do some comparing and contrasting. For reference, of the eight of the orientations, two of them are for a peer tutoring program at Northwestern (in which I played different role between the years), two of them is for the Center of Talented Youth, and four of them for teaching assistants at Michigan (where I was a participant one year and a presenter the other three).

It never occurred to me before now, but teaching orientations are probably different from orientations for most other jobs. In addition introducing new employees to the internal policies and procedures – what every orientation does – teaching orientations often have an active component, where we get feedback on some aspect of our new role. (On reflection, while a tech company orientation won’t train you to program, a service position might do role plays. This suggests a correlation with whether human interaction is required.) For Oxy, this consists of a little over an hour after lunch to workshop a draft syllabus. It turns out that this was the only training component of the entire day, which surprised me, as my previous orientations have almost reversed the amount of time spent on training versus on procedures.

In retrospect, I suspect that this has to do with how my teaching credentials have already been established at the interview stage, and I am therefore assumed to know what I am doing. I think CTY had a similarly light focus on the training as well. In contrast, for the peer tutoring and teaching assistant programs at Northwestern and Michigan, the majority of participants have never taught before, and so time must be spent providing them with the basics.

Of course, CTY and Oxy also requires more of me outside of teaching. At CTY, as a summer camp for middle school kids, I was asked to keep an eye out for the students’ wellbeing, even though I was only an academic staff and there were other dedicated residential assistants. This included making sure the students are eating well at lunch (which the academic staff oversaw, but also being aware of the interactions between students, which could ruin the entire camp experience if a negative relationship was not resolved. I was reminded of this at Oxy’s orientation as well, especially with the focus on student services – advising, Title IX, library resources, peer tutoring, and so on. Which also makes sense, since on a scale of how student-focused an institution is, Oxy would lie between CTY and (say) Michigan.

While nothing in the orientation blew my mind – a lot of it was infodumping – I did gain a perspective on setting up students expectations. A lot of the advice given to us was about making sure students understand how college works. This is true for first generation college students (ie. students who are the first in their family to attend college), who may avoid office hours to not appear clueless in front of their professors, and in general may not know the avenues of support that the college makes available to them. Even students who grew up knowing college graduates, however, may not yet have the habits to succeed in college – not just study habits, but also how to write professional emails (ie. to you). The cleverest one I heard is that students may not know they have to set aside time to think – not just to plan out a program they have to write, but to let the concepts sink in. It has never occurred to me that taking time to understand something is a learned skill, but it makes sense if students have never struggled before.

Classes start tomorrow. Orientation is over for now, but I’ll be meeting with my cohort of new faculty as the semester progress. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot in the next couple weeks – and I’m honestly looking forward to it.

Step 16: Get Oriented

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