Graduate Teaching Assistantships
Graduate Teaching Assistants play a major role in the educational process at Mason. As a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA), you will participate in the instruction, advising, and evaluation of undergraduates. GTAs can either be instructors-of-record for courses, meaning that you are responsible for every aspect of the design and delivery of the class, or they assist other faculty in teaching their classes. In many cases, especially in courses with large enrollments, you will provide the human contact and personal motivation that can mean the difference between success and failure for individual students. For these reasons, a teaching assistantship carries with it considerable responsibility.
A teaching assistantship also provides you with an extremely valuable opportunity for professional development. You can learn the art of good teaching, you can find out whether you wish to pursue a teaching career, and you can acquire the deeper understanding of your field that only teaching the subject can provide.
As a GTA, you have access to all of the Stearns Center programs and resources, including consultations, observations, and our annual Innovations in Teaching and Learning conference. The Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning also holds workshops at the beginning of the fall semester for new and returning graduate students in conjunction with several of Mason’s academic units.
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Work Expectations for Graduate Students
- Full-time graduate teaching assistants are expected to work 20 hours per week during the academic year; part-time graduate assistants are expected to work 10 hours per week during the academic year. Work expectations will be established in the offer letter and will be monitored by the supervising faculty member. The supervising faculty member also has the responsibility to evaluate the graduate assistant’s work performance.
- The supervising faculty member may require that a GTA be available to work two weeks prior to the start of the semester. In this situation, the faculty member is not obliged to give compensatory time off during the semester.
- GTAs should be available for a planning meeting with their supervisor sometime during the two- week period prior to the start of the semester. GTAs who serve as the instructor of record for a course should be available at the conclusion of the semester to answer questions that might arise about student grades.
- The offer letter template requires that work expectations be expressed to the student.
Communicating with Your Supervisor
It is understood that you are a student first; your academic responsibilities are paramount. You should communicate with your supervisor if your GTA responsibilities compromise your academic work. If you have specific tasks, projects, or exams on the horizon, you should make your supervisor aware so that you both can arrange your time appropriately. As a professor, your supervisor is interested in your success both academically and as a GTA. Communication is integral to this process.
A good way to address such issues is to establish a weekly meeting to touch base with your supervisor. During this meeting, you should ask for feedback on your performance as well as provide feedback regarding your interactions with individual students and administrators, your own academic responsibilities and progress, and any concerns you have regarding your GTA experience.
Interaction with Students
As a representative of Mason, your interaction with students is governed by the same rules and regulations as faculty and administrators. Professional conduct, demeanor, and attitude are required both within and outside of the classroom.
It may be challenging for some GTAs who are close in age and experience to the students with whom they are working. In some instances, a GTA may be familiar with students outside of the classroom in a social or other academic setting. If a conflict of interest or challenge arises in any situation, you should discuss it with your supervisor as soon as possible.
Familiarize yourself with FERPA (student privacy) policies. Your position as a GTA will provide you with access to student records, and you are responsible for maintaining confidentiality.
Familiarize yourself with additional resources regarding the teaching process. Your role as a GTA will require you to be familiar with all of the information provided on the syllabus and you will serve as an alternative resource to the students in the course(s) for which you are assigned.
Documenting Your Teaching Assistantship
Your teaching assistantship affords you the first opportunity you will have to establish your teaching portfolio. Your portfolio will provide you and potential employers an opportunity to reflect on your experiences, strengths, and skills as an educator.
In addition to feedback established in regular meetings with your supervisor, it is important to obtain a written evaluation at the end of each semester. This feedback will allow you to discover your strengths and improve your skills. In addition, evaluations will establish the basis of your teaching portfolio and provide evidence of your improvement over time. Click here for a sample evaluation form (open in MS Word document).