Tips from a GSI

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From a GSI: 5 Ways to Work with Your GSI

Graduate Student Instructors are often the first educators you encounter on campus since we’re assigned to teaching many of the introductory lower level division classes. You will also find GSIs in some upper level classes.

In some schools, GSIs are assigned to classes with a big number of students to support faculty with tasks such as discussions, labs, and grading among other things. Last semester we had to quickly transition into remote teaching because of the emerging COVID-19 global pandemic. GSIs put all the effort necessary to make a seamless transition.

During the summer, almost 300 GSI attended the Graduate Remote Instruction Innovation Program to work tirelessly in the redesign of courses so that the semester experience can be an unforgettable one for undergraduate students. GSIs love teaching and put a lot of effort into making sure undergraduate students’ needs are met in spite of being unfairly remunerated workers. What do we do, what do we like about it? What’s going to be most helpful for undergraduates to understand how to work with a GSI?

Here’s five tips for how to work with your GSI:

1. Understand that GSIs are also students

When you work with a GSI, keep in mind that they’re also students. This means that they understand your experience from a similar lens, but also that just as you there are multiple requirements, papers, and readings they have to complete.

2. GSIs love teaching and we all do it differently

All GSIs in our campus love teaching. Did I already mention that almost 300 GSI spent their summers making sure how to give you the best, most amazing remote learning experience ever? Yes, we did, and that’s because UC Berkeley GSIs are passionate about teaching and want to provide an amazing educational experience to undergraduates. And what each GSI has to offer is different and unique because we all come from varying experiences that inform how we approach our students.

3. Always go to your GSI’s office hours

Always go to your GSI’s office hours. This isn’t advice I made up, this is the advice other undergraduates like you put in the evaluation GSIs like me get. I’ve taught at Berkeley for five years and most of my students agreed on this one. Office hours is the space to think deeper about that topic that caught your attention in class and handle matters that may be private like inquiring further about feedback or a grade.

4. Listen to and read all the feedback your GSIs give you

If there’s feedback on your paper, you GSI most likely want you to succeed in class and help you strengthen your skills. Reading through feedback will give you a lot of insight on how to improve not just for the specific class but probably for your learning process more generally. Make sure that once you read it, you take it into consideration for future work. GSIs definitely notice when you put the effort into improving your work and it will reflect in your grading. If you have doubts about feedback, see point three.

5. Be kind and respectful to your GSIs

Remember GSI are students just like you, except more advanced in their process and with much more expertise in specific subject areas. However, most of us are also learning while we teach about the things that we already know. Moreover, teaching is always a learning process in general because each group is different and although there are general pedagogical strategies for teaching, different things will work with different groups. Being kind and respectful to your GSI will show them that you appreciate their efforts and dedication to offer you the best educational experience possible.

Yairamaren Roman Moldonado is finishing her PhD in Latin American and Caribbean Literatures and New Media. She is a GSI at UC Berkeley.