Guidelines for Training and Supervision of Graduate-Student Teachers
Following are general guidelines for training and supervision of Graduate-Student Teachers. Teaching duties vary quite a bit, both within a department and from department to department and discipline to discipline, so it would be difficult to account for all variations in appointments; each department will therefore need to adapt these recommendations accordingly.
For the sake of clarity we’ve divided our recommendations: first, according to timing–before and during the appointment; and second, according to rank and duties– those for graduate students serving in various teaching assistant capacities, such as graders, lab assistants, recitation leaders, and those for graduate students teaching their own courses, with full responsibility for their own sections/courses.
We urge departments to require that all graduate students teaching for them complete all aspects of their training. In many instances, especially for the extensive training that should be given to Teaching Fellows who teach their own course, this training can be set up as a course, preceding and/or accompanying the teaching, and the course can thus be listed on the graduate students’ transcripts. In addition or alternatively, departments can make use of the teaching workshops run by GSAS-in such a case, departments should probably require their graduate instructors to attend these workshops. In all cases, Teaching Fellows should be given very clear instructions as to both their teaching responsibilities and their training requirements.
A) Before the Appointment/Duties begin:
- Teaching Fellows who Assist Faculty Members should be given a preparatory session or two in which the faculty member[s] review with the Teaching Fellows the course–its syllabus, its goals and methodology–and the TA’s specific duties within that course. Teaching Fellows who will assist in grading should be told what the assignments will be, as well as the standards by which the student work will be judged.
Discussion leaders should be given precise instructions, ideally with practice, for leading class discussions.
A written set of general guidelines-both in print and on-line-is helpful for reference and initial training, but it’s best for these guidelines to be tailored to individual situations and accompanied by in-person meetings, whether one-on-one or in group workshops
- Teaching Fellows who teach their own courses/sections:
Those graduate students who will be given their own sections of introductory or upper-level courses should receive substantial preparatory training, preferably including both practical advice and exposure to relevant pedagogical theories and methodologies. Whenever possible, this training should be designed as a course. Such a course should use a combination of formal meetings, workshops/discussion groups, and at-home assignments, including readings and written assignments of various kinds. Examples of written assignments could include (depending upon the course and the Teaching Fellow’s duties), practice in creating lecture notes, questions for discussion, assignments, and exam questions for the students.
Note that currently many programs/departments provide all/most of this kind of training during the teaching term-a practice that often proves particularly useful, since it accompanies the actual teaching. However, even when most of the training accompanies the teaching, departments should try to provide some preliminary training or some way of starting the pedagogy course before the teaching begins.
B) During the term[s] of teaching:
Teaching Fellows who assist in grading should meet with the faculty member a few times, at least once before they receive the first assignment to be graded. They should receive detailed guidelines for grading and evaluating each assignment during the term.
Ideally some/all of the grades should be reviewed by the faculty member teaching the course, both in fairness to the undergraduates in the course and also to help train the graduate students to improve the quality and efficiency of their grading.
Teaching Fellows reading sets of papers, that is student essays, should receive additional guidance in how to respond to student writing–that is, not just how to “correct” and grade the papers, but how to respond to the thinking of the student writers.
Discussion leaders and lab assistants should be observed at least once, and samples of their class plans/notes and questions for discussion should be reviewed.
Teaching Fellows who teach their own course should receive on-going mentoring on all aspects of their teaching, including preparing class plans/notes, designing a syllabus [where relevant], as well as creating assignments and exams, leading discussions, and responding to and grading written work.
A faculty mentor should observe at least one of the Teaching Fellow’s classes in the first year of teaching-this observation should be considered part of the training, not simply as evaluation. Depending upon a department’s resources and teaching needs, this mentoring can be provided by one faculty member for all Teaching Fellows (as is the case for Music Hum, for example) or individually by different faculty members, ideally working with graduate students whose scholarly work they know. In the latter case, the department should provide guidelines as to what aspects of teaching the mentor should cover.
Each department should develop procedures for evaluating both the training the department provides and also the work of the Teaching Fellows. In addition, there should be a clear understanding of what constitutes unacceptable performance-failure to meet classes, hand back papers and assignments, etc. Since more and more academic jobs require the submission of student evaluations, departments need to have in place a system for distributing and collecting student evaluation forms for Teaching Fellows.