Mathematics department sets the bar high for training its Graduate Teaching Assistants for classroom instruction

Associate Professors of Teaching, Shereen Schultz and Christopher Leirstein, and their MAT 5992 class.

All new graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) in our department are required to take the course Teaching Mathematics in College, a course referred to as MAT 5992. The course, open to any interested student, prepares enrollees for their time in the university mathematics classroom.

The course, co-taught by Shereen Schultz and Christopher Leirstein, two associate professors of teaching, covers a multitude of topics including record keeping, lesson planning, active learning, teaching basics, assessment writing, classroom management, syllabus writing, and much more. The course is offered each fall term and students who enroll are assigned a mentor with who they meet weekly to discuss all matters related to teaching. They attend their mentor’s class each week and present two lessons, and that is in addition to writing a quiz and exam.

Near the end of the term, each student presents a 20-minute lesson on a topic from College Algebra. The presentations are open to everyone in the department and students enrolled in College Algebra are especially encouraged to attend.

Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) Tamara Bolanca-Trajkovic teaching a lesson to guest students and faculty on solving non-linear inequalities.

The onset of COVID-19 has brought some challenges to the course. For the first time in a while, it did not run in the fall of 2020, but instead, it ran in winter 2021. “We had to postpone because of the travel restrictions and other challenges imposed by the pandemic,” said Chris Leirstein, one of the co-instructors for the course. The remote learning environment also meant that the delivery of the course had to be different. “We had to rethink how we would teach this course from the ideal face-to-face modality to online synchronous” Leirstein added. The course meets one day per week for two and a half hours.

GTA Francis Baer explains to guest students and faculty how to evaluate logarithms.

Schultz and Leirstein took over teaching the course in 2015 from then co-instructors Patty Bonesteel and Mary Klamo. Since then, Schultz and Leirstein have worked to add a number of active learning components to the course. This work was made possible by a WIDER SSTEP grant that both received in 2018. The grant was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and was titled Engaging First-Time Instructors in Evidenced-Based Teaching Methods.

Funding was provided from 2018 to 2020 and featured two teaching conferences, one held in August 2018 and May 2019 in which several faculty members shared their work and participants completed some hands-on training in active learning strategies. “We really wanted to engage our colleagues in discussions about active learning because of its emergence in the literature,” said Shereen Schultz, co-instructor for the course. “The instructor needs to do more than just stand in front of the room for 50 minutes and lecture to their students. They have to get them involved to help stimulate their thinking and generate some excitement for learning math”, she added.

Students from the College Algebra (MAT 1070) class along with faculty from the Department of Mathematics, are invited at the end of each term that MAT 5992 runs to observe the GTA lessons and provide feedback. For the students, it is a great way to review for their upcoming final exam.

This course plays an integral part in the training that the department’s GTAs receive prior to formally entering the classroom on their own and is one example of how our department strives for fostering teaching excellence.

We are sad to announce that Chris Leirstein will be leaving us at the end of the fall term to take a position with another institution. We are proud of the work that Chris has given to the department and wish him well in his future endeavors!

If you would like to know more about the course or have any questions about our programs, please contact us at or visit for more information. And don’t forget to follow us on social media: Wayne State Department of Mathematics and @WayneStateMath.

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