Gallagher and Ed Ayers team teaching
the graduate course "Introduction to
American History, 1607-1877"
discussion sections, lab courses, and grading that often accompany large
are normally delegated to graduate student teaching assistants (see also
"Specific TA Concerns"). If you are a faculty member preparing
a TA-assisted course, you must clarify the role of TAs and graders; if
you have more than one assistant, you need to ensure consistent standards
within the course. You must make certain that enrollment in TAs' sections
is reasonable: usually not more than 15-20 students per section. You must
also decide how much of students' final grades depends on their work with
the TA and how much on their work with you. The TA-taught section should
weigh in the final grade proportionately to the amount of time students
spend in the section and the amount of work they do there. To help your
assistants develop professionally, your obligations are many.
- Make sure
the department schedules the TAs for your course well in advance. Although
TAs do not always need to know months ahead their precise section times
(which may depend on last-minute enrollments), they need to know which
course they will teach and with whom they will work. Whenever possible,
graduate students should be given TA responsibilities in courses close
to their academic specialties. To feel confident, TAs must be familiar
with course material and with you as the professor in charge.
- Hold regular
meetings (at least every two weeks) with all TAs to preview upcoming
lectures (which TAs normally attend). Integrate TAs' work with yours,
elicit their ideas, and keep tabs on how well students are grasping
- If you have
more than two or three sections, appoint a "head TA" to take
care of most of the day-today administrative tasks such as overseeing
changing enrollment figures early in the semester, establishing exam-writing
committees, and organizing staff meetings. Head TAs normally receive
compensation for this extra work with release time from normal teaching
loads or additional salary.
- Aim for
coherence throughout your sections without stifling TAs' imagination
and enthusiasm. Consciously decide how much leeway to give TAs in their
discussion sections. On the one hand, students in separate sections
are in the same course and should receive the same information. On the
other, intelligent, independent graduate students specializing in the
discipline need some flexibility.
with TAs sample assignments, and establish grading and commenting policies.
Standardizing otherwise subjective grading reduces much undergraduate
student anxiety and complaining. When you receive the first assignment
from students, grade some papers together with TAs, perhaps simply by
photocopying half a dozen papers, reading and grading them simultaneously,
and comparing notes. Only by discussing specifics can you come to some
consensus and be sure that your TAs are looking for the same sort of
work you are.
- Sit in on
each TA's section at least once and discuss the TA's teaching individually,
but be aware of the stress factors involved. Nearly anyone becomes nervous
when supervised; this is particularly true when it's teaching that's
observed (a serious and personal matter for most instructors) and when
faculty observe graduate students (their dependents in many ways). To
reduce the strain, take notes not of your impressions but simply of
what happens during class; with these you can help the TA see what works
best and improve where necessary. Most importantly, explain the exact
observation procedure to your TAs and seek their suggestions. The Teaching
Resource Center can videotape teaching for self-analysis, if you would
like to offer TAs this option (see "Analyzing and Improving Your
TAs to observe each other's classes, and give them guidelines. You will
find some ideas in the consultations section of "Analyzing and
Improving Your Teaching."
your TAs in their decisions and grading whenever possible. TAs are diligent
professionals who normally follow clear grading guidelines when provided.
Students, however, may think they can play you and your TA off one another.
Require students to see their respective TAs and then the head TA before
bringing questions or complaints to you. Only in grave circumstances
should you alter TAs' comments on a paper or overrule their final grades,
and then only after consulting with the TA. At times, however, you may
need to ask a TA to explain the reasoning behind a questionable grade
or offer a denied make-up exam that a student deserves. You are the
final judge in such cases; consult with your departmental chair in unusual
- All in all,
consider yourself a mentor to your TAs. Thoughtfully decide what they
can learn from you about the scholarship of research and teaching in
your profession. Allow each to teach about twenty minutes of your lecture
course, if possible. Respond to their ideas about the course; ask for
their reactions to a draft syllabus before you finalize it. By involving
TAs in creating and directing a course, you provide practical 5 experience
they will need later as faculty members and can gain in no other way.
I have enjoyed most about teaching a US History survey is a sense of
being part of the team. By opening up to what [my TAs] have to say and
by building readings around what they suggest, I keep the course new
to me. Edward
Working with Graders
TAs, graders don't teach a class; moreover, because students rarely see
or know their graders personally, they are more likely to protest grades
assigned by graders than those assigned by professors or TAs. Yet graders
have an immense responsibility toward your students. To help your graders
develop their teaching skills and to reduce complaints and standardize
course grading, integrate your graders into your course as much as you
- Decide whether
graders need to attend your lectures. In most cases, you should have
graders attend at least some of the classes so that they can see your
- Make sure
your students know who their graders are and how to reach them. Students
who can discuss how their work was graded are more likely to have positive
feelings about the course.
- If your
graders are not native speakers of English, make sure they can communicate
effectively with students who seek their help.
- Get involved
in assessing each assignment:
with graders your assignments and expectations before students
submit their work.
the first submitted assignment with graders before they begin
grading. Grade a few papers as a group and compare your reactions
and grades. Recommend that graders comment and correct in pencil
so that the differences between their changes and yours (perhaps
necessary at first) will not be obvious to students.
how the grading will be divided between you and your graders and
who will assign the final grade.
your graders and their grading decisions as you would your TAs (see
Teaching as a Team
a course or parts of a course with a colleague can benefit both instructors
and students. By watching each other in the classroom and analyzing course
progress, instructors learn teaching techniques, gain new perspectives
on their disciplines, improve their methods of interacting with students,
and experience a renewed sense of collegiality. Students have the benefits
of two experts, the opportunity to learn from different teaching styles
and, in many cases, the excitement of an interdisciplinary approach. To
team teach successfully, work in tandem as much as possible:
- Design the
- Decide who
will teach which topics.
- If one colleague
teaches only a few classes (is, in fact, really an invited lecturer),
decide how you will inform students that they are equally responsible
for material presented by each instructor.
- Decide how
you will settle differences of opinion. If you disagree about a student's
grade on the final exam, for instance, do you negotiate a resolution
or does one of you have the final say?
- Score independently
but consult about final grades on any common assignments.
with the department chair to ascertain how the course load will count
for each of you. One solution has proved successful for two professors
teaching one three-hour course on a regular basis: each year, in an
alternating pattern, the course counts as a three-hour course for one
instructor and an overload for the other. On the other hand, suppose
a three-hour course is divided into two lectures and discussion sections
each week. Then instructors who equally team teach two lectures and
two discussion sections per week can each be said to teach the equivalent
of a three-hour course.
will need to divide some responsibilities in advance (and preferably in
writing to avoid future confusion). The following questions should help:
- Who orders
- Who coordinates
TAs, if any?
- Who guarantees
that handouts or new web documents are prepared?
- Whom should
students see for a conference or complaint?
- Which class
meetings should both instructors attend? To benefit from team teaching,
instructors should participate in as many of the colleague's classes
- Who submits
the final grade sheet?