T H E G R A D U A T E A S S I S T A N T G U I D E
“Teaching, research, and service,” three activities that have shaped the course of The University of Alabama since its inception are reflected in the role of the Graduate Assistant at the University. The state’s oldest university remains dedicated to discovering, disseminating, and applying knowledge. In responding to societal change, the University strives constantly to identify carefully and to pursue vigorously new academic goals, while continuing to honor previous commitments. A special emphasis of the University is graduate education. Your appointment as a Graduate Assistant can involve you deeply in the innovative and ambitious graduate program at The University of Alabama.
As at other universities nationwide, Graduate Assistants at The University of Alabama function both as students and as professionals, enhancing their education by playing this important dual role. While studying to meet academic requirements for advanced degrees, Graduate Assistants also complement their formal studies through research, teaching, or administrative work under the supervision or tutelage of faculty or staff.
As a Graduate Assistant, you will need a clear understanding of your dual status, being aware especially of the requirements, responsibilities, and privileges of your position as both student and professional. The Graduate Catalog is the official source of all information pertaining to graduate students, including general academic policies and specific requirements in your area of concentration. As a supplement to the Graduate Catalog, this online Graduate Assistant Guide is designed to provide easy access to important information about your position as a Graduate Assistant at the University.
Departments may award a teaching, research, or administrative assistantship to a student with regular or conditional admission to a regular, degree-awarding graduate program. A conditionally admitted student whose graduate GPA falls below 3.0 at any time during his or her conditional status will be placed on academic warning and will not be allowed to hold a teaching assistantship; however, he or she may hold an externally funded research assistantship. The same prohibition on holding a teaching assistantship applies to regularly admitted graduate students who are placed on academic warning.
If you are a prospective graduate student applying to the University, on your application you should express your interest in an assistantship. You may also benefit by corresponding with the department or program head of your particular area, indicating your desire to become a Graduate Assistant. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools requires that all graduate teaching assistants with primary responsibility for teaching a course for credit and/or assigning grades first must have a master's in the teaching discipline or 18 completed graduate semester hours in the teaching discipline, direct supervision by a faculty member experienced in the teaching discipline, regular in-service training, and planned and periodic evaluations.
If you are an international graduate student or a non-native speaker of English who desires an assistantship, you will be required to complete successfully the International Teaching Assistant Program (ITAP) conducted by the English Language Institute (ELI) to assure your competence in English. International graduate students not holding assistantships also may take advantage of the program.
Graduate Assistant (GA)
The term Graduate Assistant refers generally to all graduate students enrolled at the University who are employed to assist a faculty or staff member in the areas of administration and research or to serve in some instructional capacity.
Graduate Administrative Assistant (GAA)
A Graduate Administrative Assistant assists the University’s administrative staff or that of a specific department within the University by collecting, ordering, and interpreting various kinds of administrative data. A GAA may assist at registration, help with departmental exhibitions, or work on special projects of a wide variety. Minor activities may include attending seminars, doing library research, and holding conferences.
Graduate Research Assistant (GRA)
A Graduate Research Assistant assumes research-oriented responsibilities such as library research, computer programming and analysis, fieldwork, laboratory experiments, scientific investigations, writing and editing material, and averaging and assigning grades.
Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA)
A Graduate Teaching Assistant serves an instructional role in a class or laboratory within a specific department of the University, performing pedagogical (teaching) functions such as preparing lectures, conducting classes, constructing and grading tests, holding student conferences, and assigning course grades. Because the majority of Graduate Assistants are GTAs, you will find that a major portion of this Guide is devoted to specific information about teaching.
When you serve as a Graduate Assistant, you must enroll as a full-time student; however “full-time” means from 1 to 12 hours of graduate-level work, depending upon the obligations of your assistantship. Minimum full-time enrollment loads for Graduate Assistants vary depending on the assistantship award. Based on a Full-Time Equivalency (FTE) award of 1.00 FTE as representing a 40-hour workweek, FTE assignments and enrollment ranges are represented in the following table:
Combined FTE of All Assistantships
Recommended Range of Graduate Course Hours the Student is Taking
Combinations of assistantship FTE in excess of 0.75 remain prohibited. In exceptional circumstances the Dean of the Graduate School or his designee may grant special approval for assistantship workloads in excess of 0.75, based on a formal request from the student’s academic supervisor and employment supervisor.
Students with regular or conditional admission status may hold graduate assistantships. A minimum GPA of 3.0 must be maintained while holding any assistantship, except during the first 12 graduate semester hours earned at UA.
Students who have earned academic warning or are in non-degree status may not hold graduate assistantships.
A conditionally admitted student whose graduate GPA falls below 3.0 at any time during the conditional status will not be allowed to hold a graduate teaching assistantship until such time as the GPA has increased to 3.0 or better. A student with provisional language admission status may hold only an assistantship that is externally funded through a contract or grant; he or she may not hold a permanently budgeted UA assistantship.
For fall and spring semesters, a graduate student must be enrolled in at least the minimum number of graduate-level course hours commensurate with the FTE as set out in the above table to hold an assistantship. For interim and/or summer, it is not required that a graduate student be enrolled in classes to hold an assistantship.
Please note that full-time status here is not the same as that required for other registration and financial situations. For example, fellowships, financial aid regulations, resident visa rules, UA System Cooperative Exchange Program, INS and IRS regulations, and other academic policies use different status definitions with regard to full-time. For more information, please refer to the department(s) administering these other programs.
In addition, although the Graduate School allows differing levels of minumum registration, enrollment in fewer than 5 hours disqualifies students from free access to the Student Recreation Center and the Student Health Center unless a special fee is paid. For more information, please contact Student Receivables.
If you are an international student, immigration regulations limit you to a maximum of 20 work hours per week, including any combination of on- and off-campus jobs for pay. If you are a nonresident foreign student (holding an F-1 or J-1 visa), you must make sure your visa is current in order to maintain work eligibility status.
The FTE from ALL assistantships, plus any other on-campus employment, must be combined when determining full-time equivalent status.
Policies determining your appointment or reappointment to a Graduate Assistantship are made within your department. The first formal step in your employment as a Graduate Assistant is a letter or memorandum of appointment to you from the department chairperson or director of graduate studies. This communication should specify the type of assistantship you are being offered, its job description, the amounts of the stipend, tuition grant, and any health benefits to which you will be entitled, the beginning and ending dates of the appointment, and the name of your supervisor.
You should receive a similar written communication for notification of reappointment, which is based primarily on satisfactory evaluations and recommendations from your supervisor. You will be expected to respond in writing to letters of appointment and reappointment.
Since spring 2012, all graduate assistants are required to submit to a background check for any criminal history, to verify Social Security number validity, and to check the National Sex Offender Registry. Information obtained is kept strictly private and confidential and will be reviewed by the Graduate School dean's office.
Employment may not commence unless the Graduate School has reviewed the background check report and approved the candidate for hire.
Award of an assistantship of 0.50 FTE or greater that is funded as a permanent budget line entitles you to a grant equal to the cost of your in- and out-of-state tuition. If your assistantship is less than 0.50 FTE, your grant is reduced proportionately.
An assistantship of 0.25 or greater that is paid from temporary or sponsored research funds exempts you from the out of-state tuition charge only. However, some departments also have funds available to cover your in-state tuition charges. As with permanently budgeted assistantships, the amount of the exemption is based on the ratio of your actual FTE to 0.5.
Thus, if your assistantship FTE is 0.25, your tuition scholarship will be 0.25/0.50, i.e. half of your tuition cost.
The awarding of a tuition grant is dependent upon the Graduate Assistant’s meeting the criteria contained in the Memorandum of Appointment and the Graduate School’s tuition memorandum issued each semester. If your assistantship is connected with auxiliary or self-supporting activities or is paid from state line-item budgets, you will not receive a tuition grant. It is important for you to ascertain the tuition grant eligibility of an assistantship before you accept it, especially if you have a choice of assistantships. Your tuition grant can be as important to your financial status as your stipend is.
Health Insurance Benefits
When a tuition grant is awarded, the assistantship also carries single participation in the UA student health insurance plan for on-campus enrolled students only. The value of that benefit is directly linked to the FTE of the position. Awards of 0.50 FTE or greater that are funded as a permanent budget line are entitled to receive free single health insurance. If your assistantship is less than 0.50 FTE, your benefit is reduced proportionately. However, the insurance is available only if you agree to pay the balance of the cost not covered by your award.
As with tuition grants, an assistantship of 0.25 FTE or greater that is paid from temporary or sponsored research funds may carry the health insurance benefits dependant upon the terms of the individual award. Please check your award letter to determine if this award applies. The benefit is reduced proportionately where the FTE of your assistantship is between 0.25 and 0.50.
Please note that regardless of enrollment requirements detailed elsewhere in this guide, in order to receive the health insurance benefit you must register for a minimum of 3 hours each semester during the duration of the assistantship.
You must register your participation in the insurance plan and agree to the terms, benefits, and conditions of the plan's administrators by visiting the Student Health Center before the end of each semester's open enrollment period. These dates are on the Graduate School calendar.
You can obtain precise information regarding your stipend (salary) from your academic department or from the Graduate School. Salaries are paid monthly, and are deposited directly with your bank on the last business day of each month. If you have not previously been employed by UA, your first paycheck will be in the form of a regular check which must be collected in person from Student Receivables with proof of ID.
Most departments discourage employment in addition to your assistantship because your dual responsibilities as a graduate student and as a Graduate Assistant will make great demands on your time and energy. Overextending yourself is likely to affect the quality of your work in every area and may be detrimental to your health. Fellowships or Scholarships do not include any work or service requirement and therefore may be ignored when assessing overloads.
The University offers two low-cost payment plans: The BAMA Plan and the deferred tuition payment plan. The BAMA Plan, “BAMA’s Affordable Monthly Alternative,” is a simple monthly budget approach to paying tuition, residence hall costs, Dining Dollars, and optional campus meal plan charges for the academic year (fall and spring semesters). Participating in the BAMA Plan is interest free with a $55 annual participation fee.
If you have already paid all previous semester charges in full and pay at least one-half of the current semester charges at registration for the current semester, you can defer the remaining half of the charges. Check with the Office of Student Receivables to learn the payment date (approximately mid-semester) and to sign a deferment agreement. There is a $30 fee for this service.
Please visit the Graduate Financial Aid Resources page for detailed information. You can also obtain information about student financial aid by contacting the Financial Aid office at Room 106 Student Services Center, phone (205) 348-6756, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. There you can learn the necessary procedure to follow for meeting and maintaining eligibility for financial aid, including help with FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The University does not have an institutional financial aid form and can process most needs analysis forms. Incoming students can speed up the process by obtaining forms from nearby lending institutions. Applications for aid filed before March 1 receive priority. For more financial assistance information, refer to the Financial Assistance Handbook, which is published by the Graduate School.
The Graduate School annually recognizes outstanding teaching by a master’s student and a doctoral student, outstanding research by a master’s student and a doctoral student, outstanding service by a graduate student, and the outstanding thesis by a master’s student and outstanding dissertation by a doctoral student. Information on Graduate School Awards procedures and timelines is available online. Outstanding graduate work also is recognized in many departments and colleges, where selection procedures vary.
Your eligibility for one of the teaching awards is based on your unconditional admission to the Graduate School, maintenance of a 3.0 grade point average or higher, and nomination by a divisional Awards Committee. A committee of the Graduate Council reviews the nominations. The committee then assesses the credentials of the finalists and selects the two winners, who will each receive a certificate and a monetary award from the Graduate Dean during Honors Day ceremonies held within the appropriate divisions.
Your department may recommend your ongoing graduate research, not necessarily related to the completion of your thesis or dissertation, to the members of your divisional committee. A Graduate Council committee reviews the nominations. The committee assesses the credentials of the nominees and selects the two winners. Each winner receives a certificate and monetary award from the Graduate Dean at the annual Honors Day program in his or her division.
Your department may recommend your completed thesis or dissertation to the members of your divisional Awards Committee, provided you have met the Graduate School submission deadline.
Once your work has been selected for consideration, a committee consisting primarily of emeritus faculty reviews it.
This committee then recommends names of the two winners to the Dean of the Graduate School.
At the annual Honors Day ceremonies, the two winners receive a certificate and a monetary award from the Graduate Dean.
Since your reappointment is based on the quality of your work, you should know how it would be evaluated. Depending on your department or division, supervision and performance review of your work may be the direct responsibilities of your departmental chairperson, usually aided by a faculty member or a committee.
Assessment of your work is likely to include formal student evaluations, informal observations by supervisors, and even peer evaluations. Your department chairperson may confer with these sources in determining whether you are to be reappointed and may, in some cases, discuss your evaluation with you. Each of these aspects of performance review can furnish you with valuable feedback, enabling you to improve your performance.
From your own experience as a student, you may already be sensitized to the need to avoid any appearance of sexual harassment of your students. Nonetheless you should know that sexual harassment is prohibited by UA policies. Because of the seriousness of this matter, official policy is paraphrased below:
The University is committed to maintaining a positive and productive environment in which the dignity and worth of all of its members are respected. Sexual harassment is damaging to this environment and will not be tolerated. Sexual harassment is defined for purposes of this policy as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when: (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment or education; (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for academic or employment decisions affecting that individual; or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s academic or work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive learning or employment environment. Sexual harassment is unacceptable conduct within the University and shall subject the offender to possible disciplinary action up to and including suspension or dismissal.
Students with complaints of sexual harassment against faculty members, graduate assistants, or staff members in academic departments, schools, or colleges should contact the Designated Harassment Resource Person in their college or school, or in the college or school in which the alleged offender is employed. A faculty member to whom a student has come with a complaint of sexual or other harassment should recommend that the student contact the Designated Harassment Resource Person.
Institutional policy also prohibits amorous or sexual relationships between instructional personnel and students for whom they have professional responsibility, even though both parties might seemingly consent to the relationship. Such a relationship may lead to a charge of sexual harassment or make the objectivity of the instructor questionable and his or her evaluations suspect.
The University strongly recommends that you complete the online Preventing Sexual Harassment Training prior to interaction with students in the classroom.
Both as a student and as a Graduate Assistant, you will need to familiarize yourself with two documents pertaining to conduct. The Code of Academic Conduct and Academic Misconduct Procedures, outlined in the UA Faculty Handbook, Appendix C, deals with cheating, plagiarism, fabrication, and misrepresentation.
As a GTA you could be the subject of an academic grievance filed by a student. The University-Wide Academic Grievance Procedures are found in the UA Faculty Handbook, Appendix D. If a student has a grievance, you should confer immediately with your department head, because there is already in place a system for handling such situations. The grievance is handled, not by you, but by a divisional academic misconduct monitor or a divisional dean, with final resolution by the Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs when necessary.
The UA Policy on Confidentiality of Records recognizes the privacy rights of students in matters such as the posting of grades and release of information about students, as outlined in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 and as in amendments to the Act.
Scientific research involving human subjects has produced substantial benefits for society, but it also has posed some troubling ethical questions. The mission of the University’s Institutional Review Board for Protection of Human Subjects is to assure that research involving human subjects is conducted ethically. University and federal policies require that review and approval to use human subjects in research precede the research. In the case of thesis or dissertation research that involves the use of human subjects, the principal investigator is responsible for contacting The University of Alabama Institutional Review Board (IRB) to obtain approval for the planned research.
Although the University is a part of the state retirement system, as a part-time employee you are not a part of that program. Your social security benefits, however, accrue as they normally do for any employee.
As a part-time employee, you are not eligible to accumulate vacation time or qualify for sick leave. However, in case of illness, normally you can expect someone in your department to fill in for you, as you would do for others in the same circumstance. Notify the department secretary so that, for instance, a class can be canceled. You will observe the same school holidays as regular faculty members and students unless other contracts have been agreed upon in the department. Since unemployment compensation does not apply to full-time students, Graduate Assistants are not eligible for such compensation.
If you are injured on the job, report the incident immediately to your supervisor. It is the policy of The University of Alabama to protect employees from undue financial hardship resulting from injury or disability incurred as a result of their performance of official duties.
The University of Alabama provides single coverage health insurance at no cost to all of its qualifying graduate assistants who are funded from permanently budgeted GA lines, if the graduate assistant applies for this benefit by the specified deadline.
Qualifying graduate assistants who choose to remain covered by another insurance policy are not required to participate in this program. Graduate assistants who otherwise qualify but are not funded from permanently budgeted GA lines may have the cost of their single coverage paid from other University sources.
The period of coverage will be for a semester and will be renewed as long as the Graduate Assistant meets the eligibility requirements and the student registers for renewal with the Student Health Center before the end of each semester's open enrollment period.
This program will not affect the provision of the Student Health Insurance Plan offered by the University, which will continue to be available for other qualifying students to purchase independently.
Graduate assistants who qualify for single coverage insurance under this program will have the option to extend the coverage to their family, as defined in the policy document from the insurance provider. The additional cost must be paid directly to the Student Health Center.
This benefit is paid by the Graduate School only for assistants supported on permanently budgeted GA lines. These are funds allocated from Academic Affairs to colleges, which may be used only for paying assistantship stipends, and are based on a fixed number of full time assistantships and the University’s minimum stipend rates.
This benefit is only available to students who are registered in on-campus classes in Tuscaloosa. Students solely enrolled in on-line classes are not eligible to enroll in this plan.
The student must use the resources of the Student Health Center first, where treatment will be administered or referral issued.
While the student may be qualified to receive the benefit under the terms of his or her appointment, the student is still required formally to enroll in the program through the Student Health Center. Generally, in qualifying to hold graduate assistantships, the students will satisfy the academic enrollment requirements for the health insurance program.
Enrollment forms will be distributed by each department with the Memorandum of Appointment. Additional copies of the form can be obtained from the Student Health Center website.
The Student Health Center will coordinate these forms and administer enrollment. The student must complete the form and submit it to the Student Health Center.
Remember, you must re-enroll at the start of each semester by contacting the Student Health Center.
The Student Health Center is a modern facility with an outpatient clinic, laboratory and X-ray departments, a licensed pharmacy, counseling center, health promotion, travel services, women’s health, and administration staff. Referral for consultation with appropriate specialists is also available; charges for specialized care are the responsibility of the student.
Outpatient care is available at the Student Health Center for most non-surgical medical problems. Students requiring services not available at the Center will be transferred elsewhere, at the student’s expense, under the care of a physician of the student’s choice. Ambulance service is not furnished.
All regularly enrolled students taking over four semester hours pay a per-semester health fee that serves as the primary source of the operating budget for the Center, and so most services incur a nominal fee per visit. Charges are made for pharmacy, laboratory, and a few other services, but they fall far below charges for comparable services obtained in the community.
The University at a nominal cost provides students with diagnosis and treatment of speech, language, and hearing problems. In addition to providing a wide range of hearing, speech, and language tests, the Speech and Hearing Center dispenses hearing aids and provides individual therapy to students, faculty, and their dependents who have speech and language problems such as stuttering, articulation disorders, language disorders, and voice disorders. Faculty and staff members of the Department of Communicative Disorders supervise the Center.
The Psychology Clinic (Tel. 348-5000) provides psychological testing and counseling services. Its facilities are used in the clinical training of graduate students. Faculty members of the Department of Psychology supervise the Clinic.
The University offers professional counseling to all students through the Counseling Center located in 1000 South Lawn Office Building. In addition, they offer seminars on coping with graduate school. The telephone number for the Center is (205) 348-3863.
Visiting the Career Center (330 Ferguson Center, Tel. 348-5848) will introduce you to valuable services. If interested in clarifying your work interests and associating them to academic and career opportunities, you may complete various career interest inventories and explore career options with the support of an experienced staff. The Career Resource Center is located adjacent to the main entrance and provides current information on the world of work as it relates to your area of interest. Before you begin your job search, you need to become job-ready. Workshops on résumé writing, interview skills, and job search strategies are available. Your job search can be supplemented by using the Job Center. There you will find a listing of thousands of jobs from many current sources. Other services include on-campus recruitment and résumé referral based upon employer requests. Additional employer names and addresses are available in the Center. The Career Center is a lifetime service to all graduates of The University of Alabama.
The student ACTion card is essential for participation in many University services. Being able to check out library books, buy student tickets, use the University recreation facilities, and buy a parking decal all require an active ACTion card. In addition, you may apply BAMA Cash to your card, which can be used in University dining areas, parking decks, and even at the hair salon. You also may access your Bama Dining account with your ACTion card.
Cards for spouses or dependent children are free. This is especially useful if your family members wish to use the recreational facilities. However, if a card is lost or stolen, a $25 reissue charge is assessed. If your spouse is unable to pick up the card, arrangements can be made for you to pick up the spouse card.
Cards can be obtained at the ACTion Card Office at 104 Student Services Center.
The University’s total library system contains more than two million volumes and over three million microform units to provide you with resources helpful in both research and teaching. In addition to an extensive collection of print materials, researchers may freely access a growing number of electronic resources in each of the libraries. Reference librarians will assist you in using both print and electronic resources.
University Libraries includes Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library (housing collections supporting the humanities and social sciences), Bruno Business Library, McLure Education Library, Rodgers Science and Engineering Library, and Hoole Special Collections Library. Other libraries on campus, under separate administration, include the Bounds Law Library (on Bryant Drive), the Health Sciences Library (at DCH Regional Medical Center), and the Map Library (in Farrah Hall). The libraries are members of the Association of Research Libraries, the Center for Research Libraries, the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries, the Southeastern Library Network, and the Coalition for Networked Information.
The libraries’ catalog can be accessed through public workstations distributed throughout the facilities and on the web. All libraries provide assistance in forming search strategies while using the catalog.
Other services available in the libraries include circulation, reserves, interlibrary loans, library instruction classes, photocopiers, and reader spaces for group study or quiet study. Information about library hours, tips for search strategy, and explanations of library resources and services are available on display stands throughout the libraries. Each of the libraries provides specialized services for users with disabilities; an adaptive technologies workstation is available in several of the libraries.
You must have an active student ACTion card in order to check out materials from the library.
Gorgas Library provides materials and access to resources supporting the humanities and social sciences. It also serves as a regional depository for federal publications. The Interlibrary Loan Office (ILL) locates and borrows materials not accessible at the University. Requests can be made online at the library website. In addition, Gorgas Library has laptop computers available for use within the library only. These can be obtained from the Circulation Desk on the second floor.
Bruno Library is located on Stadium Drive and provides access to resources in accounting, economics, finance, management, marketing, and related areas.
McLure Library is located on University Boulevard and contains elementary, secondary, and higher education resources, as well as materials to support programs in educational leadership, athletic training, health studies, counselor education, educational/school psychology, educational research, education computer technology, educational foundations, fine arts education, human performance, and special education. Laptop computers are available at the Circulation Desk.
Rodgers Library is located on Hackberry Lane and accommodates studies in aerospace, chemical, civil, electrical, industrial, mechanical, metallurgical, and mineral engineering; computer science; biology; chemistry; geology; geography; nursing; mathematics; physics; and related fields. Laptop computers are available at the Circulation Desk.
Hoole Special Collections Library is located on the second floor in the Scientific Collections Facility on Hackberry Lane and houses Southern history resources, the University archives, and the rare books collections. Laptops are available at the Reference Desk.
Graduate Assistants usually have office or laboratory space. In some departments, limited workspace requires the sharing of desks, filing cabinets, telephones, typewriters, or microcomputers, but Graduate Assistants become adept at working out compatible office use schedules. Ordinarily, you will have your own mailbox in your department office.
If graduate students are in the writing phase of their dissertation, private study carrels may be reserved by written request in Gorgas Library, Room 201.
On most large campuses, you will find one location in particular that serves as the center of student activity. At The University of Alabama, Ferguson Student Center not only houses dozens of student services, but also provides opportunities for socializing. On the ground floor, you will find the University Supply Store (a bookstore nicknamed “the Supe Store”) where you can purchase textbooks and materials for class, a U.S. Post Office branch, hair styling salon, game room, and student computer lab.
On the main floor at the west entrance to the Ferguson Center, you will find the central lobby area that includes the Information Desk and student lounge areas with televisions. Ferguson Center has a Starbucks Coffee Shoppe connected to the main dining area and the food court. The food court features a number of brand vendors such as Blimpies, Burger King, and Chick-fil-A, as well as a fresh soup and salad bar and Café Tuscaloosa’s hot buffet. The northern side of the Ferguson Center houses The Fresh Food Company, modeled after an open market place where food is prepared right before you. For one fee, you can choose from each station, including the Southern Kitchen, Café Roma, and The American Bistro.
Besides these eating options, on the main floor you also will find the office of the Dean of Students, the Ferguson Facilities Office, a branch of the Alabama Credit Union, duplication services, public phones, the Art Gallery, and the Theater. Patio tables located on the outside East Terrace can be used for eating and/or studying. Several local banks have automated teller machines outside the east entrance to Ferguson Center.
On the third floor a large number of student offices, including University Programs, Coordinating Council for Student Organizations (CCSO), IFC-Panhellenic-Pan Greek, African-American Association (AAA), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to name a few. In addition, the third floor has the Career Center, Job Resource Center, and a large number of meeting rooms that can be reserved for a wide range of functions.
During the fall and spring semesters, the Ferguson Center is open 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday (open until 3:00 a.m. during special events through University Programs) and 10:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. on Sunday. During the Summer/Interim Sessions, hours are 6:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The Information Desk number is (205) 348-6063, or visit the Ferguson Center website for more information.
Housing is available in the many neighborhoods surrounding the University where apartments, rental houses, and condominiums are plentiful and reasonably priced. For more information concerning off-campus housing please contact Julie Elmore, assistant director for off-campus housing, at (205) 348-9647 or email@example.com. You may also visit the Tuscaloosa Apartment Guide or Crimson Choice, UA’s preferred residential rental educational program.
For information about on-campus housing, contact the Housing and Residential Communities office.
The Children’s Program serves children from 2 months to 5 years. Its operating hours are Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Facilities include two infant classrooms, each with an observation room; two toddler classrooms, each with an observation room; six preschooler classrooms, each with two observation rooms; sick room; laundry room; multipurpose room; resource room; and eating area.
Applications are accepted throughout the year with preference given to children of UA students, faculty, and staff. The Children’s Program is an equal opportunity provider of childcare services, and applications for admission are accepted without regard to race, religion, sex, or national origin. Contact Robin Hollingworth at (205) 348-7932 or write to Child Development Center—Children’s Program, Box 870159, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0159.
Graduate Parent Support
Graduate Parent Support (GPS) is a program initiated by the Graduate School that aims to serve graduate students who have children. GPS also partners with the Undergraduate Parent Support program to provide services to all students who are also caregivers. GPS also sponsors Sitters for Service, a program that utilizes undergraduate students to provide free babysitting hours to graduate students who have children in exchange for earning community service hours.
Recreational Activities and Facilities
The University provides many fitness and leisure activity facilities, including the Student Recreation Center, voted an Outstanding Sports Facility by the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association, and located on the extreme east side of the campus. This large complex features a spacious, modern facility with five all-purpose courts for basketball, badminton, and volleyball; 12 racquetball and squash courts; a suspended indoor track; heated swimming pool; a well-equipped exercise and weight room; two aerobics rooms; and complete dressing rooms with sauna and steam rooms. Further amenities include a lighted tennis complex with 20 courts and a 28-acre playing-field complex. The Center offers classes in aerobics, dancing, yoga, and karate and houses a Personal Training Studio, a Fitness Testing Lab, and Rehab Services. Information on intramural sports and sports clubs at the University is also available.
The Outdoor Pool Complex, located on Campus Drive on the north side of the Student Recreation Center, features a circulating “river” with water fountains, water polo area, and shallow sun pool, along with a children’s pool with fountain, a water slide, snack bar, complete dressing rooms for men, women, and families, and private locker space.
The Aquatic Center (Bryant Drive and Hackberry Lane) houses two heated pools, including one Olympic-sized pool with diving area and a 25-yd. lap pool, as well as a weight room, lockers, and showers.
In addition to indoor activities, the UA Outdoor Recreation Program is designed to allow students, faculty, and staff to participate in and learn about various outdoor activities. The program offers instruction, literature, and other valuable information in all areas of outdoor recreation. UAOR plans and coordinates trips and weekend excursions for people to get involved in outdoor activities. For convenience, UAOR provides a rental shop for those who do not have their own equipment or who want to go out on their own. The UAOR office and rental shop are located in the Student Recreation Center, across from the indoor track.
To use any of the University facilities, you will need a current ACTion card (available in 104 Student Services Center).
Graduate Assistants have the same privilege of ordering tickets as do other students of the University who have active ACTion cards. The phone number at the ticket office is 348-2262. Season tickets to games normally must be ordered and paid for in May prior to the season. Visit ROLLTIDE.COM and click on “Student Tickets” to order a season package. Tickets should be picked up at the ticket office when you receive your confirmed schedule and fall ACTion card.
You will need to purchase a student parking permit and observe all parking restrictions. To receive your parking decal, you must have an active ACTion card and a schedule indicating that your account is clear. You may obtain a parking decal at 103 Student Services or go online to Bama Parking for parking locations and further information. There is no special parking for Graduate Assistants. A citation for failing to register is excused only once.
As a graduate student, you are eligible for membership in the University Club, which is housed in the historic mansion located at 421 Queen City Avenue. Your application for membership must be accompanied by one letter of recommendation from a member of the permanent, regular faculty of the University.
There is a $25 per month membership fee, and nominations must be made by a current member. Although your membership will end at your graduation, you then can request membership as either a resident or non-resident. The club offers a buffet luncheon daily except Saturday and special meals and events before and after football games and other campus events. Prices are reasonable. Members may reserve the cocktail lounge or a party room for private parties. For membership information call 348-4848.
The Graduate Teaching Assistant at The University of Alabama occupies a unique position and serves an invaluable function for the University. Departments award such assistantships on the basis of academic excellence and potential for achievement as a college instructor. As a GTA you will gain professional experience in teaching while earning financial support for your studies. The University also benefits, for you become an essential member of the corps of qualified individuals who assist in instruction.
Because many GTAs are closer in age to their students than the faculty is, students tend to relate well to them. For many freshmen, for instance, contact with GTAs can be especially welcome at a large University where they tend otherwise to become lost in the crowd. You may be asked for advice on both personal and academic matters, as well as for general information about the University. Acquiring both undergraduate and graduate catalogs and a University telephone book, as well as a supply of brochures describing the many special student services of the University, can help you to furnish accurate information.
You can be a positive academic influence on undergraduates who are unsure of their majors; they may get their first exposure to a field of study through a class or a laboratory section you teach. Your knowledge and enthusiasm may inspire interest and even help a student to choose a major. Although it is not your responsibility to do formal academic counseling, you should know where and to whom a student could go for such information, particularly in your own department.
As exciting as all these possibilities can be for you, it is equally important for you to maintain a balance between your roles as student and teacher. Your classroom responsibilities should not adversely affect your academic progress toward your graduate degree. Your goal must be to discover a workable system for performing equally well in both important roles. The fact that the University Counseling Center offers seminars on coping with graduate school should alert you to the fact that wearing several hats can be challenging.
Most GTAs come to the job without teaching experience. In fact, a large number of you have come directly from undergraduate programs and must make a rapid transition from a primary role as “student” to a dual one as “student” and “teacher.” In recognition of this, the Graduate School sponsors several programs to help you adjust to GTA life.
The Graduate Student Association (GSA) is an active organization that sponsors activities and programs for all graduate students. Composed of an executive board and departmental liaisons from all academic areas, including an African-American Graduate Student Association Liaison, the GSA works provides services and resources aimed at the unique needs of graduate students to help them succeed academically, personally, and professionally.
GSA services and resources include an orientation for new graduate students; seminars and programs; publications; an extensive web page to keep graduate students informed; a Graduate Student Peer Mentoring Program; an annual Graduate Student Research Conference; Dissertation Support Groups; and resources (including books, videos, and software tutorials). Sign up at the website to receive regular announcements from the Graduate Student Association.
The GSA Board Coordinator also chairs the Council of Presidents’ Research Committee, which hears requests from students for financial assistance with research efforts. Alpha Epsilon Lambda and Pinnacle Honor Societies are also advised through this office.
The Graduate School requires attendance at the two-day Workshop for New GTAs, which is held each August prior to the fall semester. During this Workshop, distinguished faculty share their knowledge on virtually all aspects of teaching. Suggestions for syllabus preparation, discussions on legal issues and ethics in teaching, seminars on active and collaborative learning, and presentations on electronic support in the classroom are just several of the many sessions new GTAs are invited to join. The workshop also has earned highly positive reviews from the GTAs attending because of the opportunity to meet one-on-one with experienced GTAs and question them for the “inside scoop,” the opportunity to have themselves videotaped while giving a “mini-lecture,” and the opportunity to critique these videotapes with fellow new GTAs.
In 1990 the Graduate School established the GTA Training Coordinators’ Network—a group of faculty from every department on campus that hires GTAs and who are responsible for their departmental training. Workshops and campus correspondence keep the participants involved in ongoing learning about effective ways to help GTAs continue to improve their teaching skills. Because the Coordinators will be working closely with you during your tenure as a GTA, it is important that you know the name and phone number of the person your department has selected as GTA Training Coordinator.
The Graduate Assistant Guide, this current online publication, contains information on all aspects of graduate life and teaching. Section II of the Guide will be particularly helpful to you as you plan your courses.
In addition, Exploring Excellence in Teaching, an online resource for faculty and graduate students, is a repository of resources for evaluating and improving teaching practices and includes links and information about teaching and learning styles, resources at the University, internet resources as well as applicable grants, conventions, and seminars. Videos of WebCT training, teaching week, and teaching excellence presentations can be viewed from the Exploring Excellence in Teaching website.
Each department that employs GTAs is required to have a GTA Coordinator who is a faculty member. This person is required by UA’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), to monitor classroom teaching and provide direct supervision of GTAs. The GTA Coordinator must be experienced in the teaching discipline, provide regular in-service training, and conduct planned and periodic evaluations, as required by SACS.
The Center for Teaching and Learning offers a variety of academic support programs to help your students improve their study and reading skills, as well as their performance in specific academic courses. Students can learn through microcomputer programs, videotaped lectures, audiocassette modules, and other self-paced materials. Faculty members have selected these resources to ensure utility and correspondence with specific University courses.
The Center for Teaching and Learning houses Student Support Services, a federally funded program for first-generation college students who are eligible for specific levels of financial aid and who may have a disability. One great program SSS has provides a fee waiver for juniors and seniors taking graduate exams of all kinds.
The " Kaplan on Campus" program also located at the Center for Teaching and Learning, continually provides review courses through the CTL. Reduced prices are available for University of Alabama students. Independent study material is available for students’ use in 124 Osband Hall at no charge. Contact the KEC at (205) 348-5186 for additional information.
In addition to recommending the Center for Teaching and Learning to your students for their own academic support, you will want to visit the CTL yourself to talk with a staff member about CTL programs, visit the resource library, or take advantage of one of the evaluation services. No appointment is necessary.
The resources cited above can help you to become an increasingly competent teacher. However, one issue of professionalism cannot be addressed gradually. In your capacity as teacher, you will represent the University, just as any faculty member does, and you are bound by the same standards. Because GTAs often relate so well to students, there is the potential for inappropriate social interaction with them. Teaching Assistants should not date students in classes they teach. Dating complicates the proper relationship between teacher and student and may raise concerns among other class members about undue access and favoritism. The University highly recommends completing the Sexual Harassment Online Training.
In addition to exercising good judgment in relationships with your students, you will want to remember some other obligations that strongly affect your students’ impression of your professionalism. Being punctual for class and making arrangements for unavoidable absences from class are important. If you are unable to meet your class, be sure to arrange for a substitute or for notification of cancellation of the class through your department. Keeping office hours as you have announced them or published them is also important for you and your students. Finally, you may want to check with your department if you are unsure of proper attire for teaching.
GTAs, with ongoing financial support and after having completed 18 semester hours within their discipline, are normally assigned one of three levels of classroom responsibility. Depending upon your department and your area of expertise, you may find yourself (1) responsible (with ongoing faculty supervision) for conducting a section of a course, (2) conducting a discussion section for a large lecture course, or (3) assisting in laboratory sections of lecture courses. Each of these assignments requires certain specific skills that you will find discussed concisely here. Naturally, not all of the material will be relevant to your duties; however, you may want to scan the entire section for your future reference.
You would think that after all your years of formal schooling and all the teachers you have known, you would be an expert on teaching. If you had known that someday you would be an instructor, you might have made a list of effective and ineffective strategies you have observed over the years. This is a good time to reminisce briefly on your experiences as a student, in order to bring to your role as GTA a vital ingredient—empathy. Having “been there” so recently, you may have an advantage over the most seasoned professor. Remember your valuable experience as a student as you begin to develop the skills of a teacher.
In thinking about teachers who were skilled and teachers who were not, you will notice that teaching styles vary dramatically. What works for one person might fail for another. Because of individual differences, there is no magic formula for successful teaching. For that reason, taking into account your own personality, strengths, and preferences is a first step toward developing your style. Any set formula for teaching might prevent your being yourself, which seems to be a prerequisite to effective teaching.
Although it is true that there is no magic formula, research has identified four key elements of effective teaching: knowledge of the subject, organization of the material, enthusiasm in presenting it, and skill in dealing with groups. These four elements of effective teaching can be learned.
Effective teachers obviously know their subject and exhibit a desire to share their knowledge. They often concentrate on clarifying concepts of the textbook or on supplementing the information in the textbook. For instance, their knowledge allows them to provide examples that illuminate difficult concepts for students. They seldom read from the text or review it in such detail that students can avoid reading the textbook themselves. Most subjects are so complex that no textbook can cover every aspect of them, so the knowledgeable teacher often functions to fill in the gaps left by the textbook.
Many GTAs teach the basic levels in their subject area, covering material that they know very well themselves. There is a danger that you may assume that what seems simple to you will be equally simple to your students. Using empathy, remember that this material was new to you at some time also, and cover it thoroughly. You might be tempted also to teach a sort of “skeleton” of the material, since you may be rather close to the course and very aware of what is “really” important from the subject matter. If you give in to this temptation, you may be shortchanging students whose interests are different from yours and who want or need to delve as deeply as possible into the subject.
Even if you think you know the material well, review it before you present it. Students can misunderstand in a variety of creative ways, and you will want to be able to field their questions comfortably. Anticipating where students might get off the track will help you to focus your preparation and give you a fresh perspective on the subject matter.
If you are assigned a course covering material that is not entirely familiar to you, and in the case of using a textbook that is new to you, try to stay at least a week ahead of your students. Get help from others in the department who have used the book and taught the course. If you are asked a question for which you do not have the answer, do not apologize, but suggest that they and you both research the question and compare answers at the next class meeting. Students don’t mind an occasional “I don’t know, but I’ll find out”; however, they do object to having their question ignored or having a GTA bluff an attempted answer.
One of the great challenges for all students is getting organized, and busy graduate students are no exception. You will find, however, that taking the time to organize your course for the entire term will make your life as a GTA much easier. Chapter Five, Section IV, Part A of the Faculty Handbook covers faculty and student instructional guidelines. The Handbook requires instructors—both professors and GTAs—at the beginning of each course to provide their students with an accurate syllabus. Items that must be covered in the course syllabus include: (1) prerequisites; (2) course description; (3) student learning outcomes or objectives, that is, a statement or list of what students who successfully complete the course will be able to know and do; (4) outline of topics covered during the semester; (5) the attendance policy; (6) the planned number and timing of major examinations and assignments; (7) grading policy; (8) the policy for making up missed course work (including examinations); and (9) required texts and other course material. Students must be given timely notice of any changes in the syllabus. Any special considerations (e.g., opportunities to earn extra credit) offered to a student shall be available to all students in the class.
You hardly can do this sort of planning without setting goals for your students. Taking into account the content to be covered, the level of understanding of content expected by the end of the course, and the students’ preparation can enable you to plan effectively. Although you can determine the first two factors by checking around your department, you may need to do some early fieldwork to find out what your students already know. You can use strategies as specific and formal as a diagnostic test or a questionnaire, or you can ascertain through informal class discussion what most of your students know. Only then can you decide where to begin and approximately how long to spend on the components of the course.
Once you have established your goals for your students, you will need to think about how your students can achieve these goals. For instance, if you have 100 years of history to cover, you will probably lecture fairly often. If, on the other hand, students must become capable of applying course material, you will have not only to present factual information through texts and lectures, but also to show your students how to develop generalizations from discussion, study problems, and assignments. You will need to provide them with opportunities to apply newly learned principles through laboratory experiments, papers, and examinations.
Your students’ (and your) progress toward the goals you identified must be measured. A last part of your organization is planning the methods by which you will evaluate progress. The evaluation should reflect the emphases of the course, when possible. A test of laboratory procedures may, for instance, require students actually to follow a procedure, not merely to write about it.
If you examine your own reasons for majoring in the area you have selected for graduate study, you’re likely to list first a genuine interest in the subject matter. If you also cultivate excitement about sharing the subject matter with others, you will develop the confidence that comes across to students as enthusiasm.
As a GTA you are responsible for motivating students to learn your subject. Because students come to a class with many different reasons for being there, it’s smart to begin the course by justifying the importance of the subject for them. If your course is required, explain why it’s important. If it’s a prerequisite, specifically outline its usefulness as a basis for the course that follows. If the course is an elective, discuss how it can supplement other college studies or improve the quality of life after graduation. Expose your own commitment to the subject matter so that your students understand that the course is worth their time and effort.
Your enthusiastic support of students’ preparation for your class is also important. Students who have read the material, done the assigned work, reviewed the previous notes, or otherwise readied themselves to learn benefit most from attending class. Verbally reward those who are obviously prepared; doing so often spurs less prepared students to get to work. In class discussion, respond generously with praise for good comments and questions and handle errors with the sensitivity you would expect. A sense of humor is one of the most effective teaching tools, as long as it doesn’t get away from you. Students learn best in a fairly relaxed atmosphere in which the emphasis is on enjoying the material, and the instructor seems excited to be there.
Enthusiasm is transmitted through voice inflection, facial expression, and gesture. Allow your personality to expand as you become more comfortable teaching. Smiling, maintaining eye contact, moving among the students and away from the podium or chalkboard, and generally responding to feedback from your class convey your enthusiasm.
Remembering your own experience in class, take steps to establish a comfortable, relaxed learning atmosphere that you control. Try to strike a good balance between comfort and chaos. Students are usually uncomfortable when the instructor seems to lack control of the class, so it’s important to deal with students who talk when you or others are talking or habitually come to class late and distract you. Most of the time, speaking to such a student privately solves the problem, provided you haven’t let it go on too long.
Your attitude toward students will quickly become clear to them. Probably the worst descriptor of a teacher’s attitude is arrogance. Sometimes teachers who are actually nervous come across as arrogant because they use their knowledge of the subject to construct a barrier between themselves and the students. They discourage questions by moving very quickly through their material and not allowing natural breaks where questions could be asked. Be especially sensitive and receptive to questions. Even when a question is repetitive or too basic for the class in general, you can tactfully suggest that the student see you after class for a detailed answer. In any case, a response such as “I’m glad you asked that question” or “Good question,” sincerely expressed, increases your students’ chances of performing well in the course.
You may know from your own experience that students come in many personality types. Typically, you will have at least one hand-waver and at least one hermit. Don’t assume that the quietest person in your class is not learning or enjoying the class. And don’t let the hand-waver monopolize you. Encourage everyone to participate without embarrassing anyone, and control the response of the wildly extroverted with humor, if you can. Say, for instance, “I know you know the answer (or have an opinion), but how about you guys in the back?”
Much of the comfort students feel in a class comes from confidence in what you expect of them. The power you have as their teacher makes students nervous until they know how they will be evaluated. Make clear your expectations for assignments and exams, as well as your criteria for grading.
A growing number of students with disabilities are pursuing their educational objectives at the University. While we may speak in collective terms of “students with disabilities” as a group, they are just as diverse as any other group of students attending the University. Some disabilities are observable; others are described as “hidden” because they are not readily apparent during day-to-day interactions. Some disabilities present major challenges in the classroom, while others require only minor adjustments. However, you should treat students with disabilities the same as any other student, namely, with sensitivity and respect, avoiding stereotypes and words that may have negative connotations for that particular person.
Students with disabilities are eligible to receive special services and reasonable accommodations. After a student’s disability is certified by the Office of Disability Services (ODS), the office provides course instructors with forms certifying that a student has a disability and identifying any needed accommodations. ODS is available to consult regarding adaptations for specific classes and to assist with any accommodation problems. If you have any questions about how to implement accommodations, consult your department chairperson, other faculty, or ODS. Because of legal implications, you should not handle a disability-related problem without assistance.
A course will run more smoothly if you take care of details early. Probably, you will have little control of where courses are taught or what textbook is to be used, but you will want to check with the course coordinator or professor in charge of the course to clarify your responsibilities. The departmental secretary is an important person to know. Not only can you find out where your class will meet, but also you can cultivate a working relationship with the secretary, who is likely to be the best source of general information in the department. For instance, ask the secretary whether there is clerical support for you and how to handle such details as notifying your class in an emergency that makes you late or absent from class.
Even veteran GTAs and professors experience first-day butterflies. You could delay such discomfort by simply handing out the syllabus and dismissing the class, but you miss the opportunity to set the tone for the class. Some teachers do this on the grounds that enrollment isn’t really stable at the first class meeting. On the other hand, many students are actively deciding whether to stay in a class; receiving only a syllabus gives them no grounds for a decision. Keeping the class, providing a preview of the semester, and even introducing vocabulary they will need for the lecture you plan to deliver at the next class meeting can show your students that you’re serious about the class and give them some idea of what to expect of the course and of you. Your goal is not to control attrition so much as it is to retain those students who are committed to the course.
A GTA or professor who has taught the course before may be a good source of a sample course description and syllabus. In fact, collecting several samples will give you a better idea of the latitude you have in preparing your own. The department probably requires that certain information be included in these materials. Take pains in preparing them because they protect you later in the term. Syllabi function contractually between you and your students and abate misunderstandings that can arise if your requirements have not been clearly stated. Include at least the nine areas listed above as required for a syllabus by the Faculty Handbook.
Whether you are a lecturer, discussion leader, science lab instructor, foreign language teacher, or grader, you will use interrelated teaching strategies. Lecturing, class discussion, one-to-one tutoring, small peer groups, role-playing, hands-on experience, and computer-assisted instruction are some of the teaching techniques you will employ. Observe other faculty to see how they combine these techniques in effective classroom management. The sections that follow are designed to give you a general sense of most of the techniques of teaching well.
Some topics lend themselves much more naturally to lecturing than others. You may be interested to know that the tradition of lecturing developed historically because printed material was so limited; the invention of the printing press changed all that. Since reading a textbook is much more efficient for your students, lecturing should be reserved for providing structure and organization to scattered material, helping pace student learning, emphasizing material important specifically for your course, or reinforcing assigned reading.
When you start to plan a lecture, first consider your audience. Even an especially strong class may be bright and motivated but unevenly prepared. You want neither to talk over their heads nor to patronize them. Try to draw on knowledge they already have or appeal to experiences which, by analogy, suit the topic and help to illustrate theoretical concepts for them.
Once you’ve decided that the nature of your topic is indeed suitable for a lecture and considered both your objectives and the knowledge level of your students, you’ll need to determine how best to fit the material to the time period of your class. Careful thought can allow you to eliminate extraneous material so that important ideas aren’t neglected. Try to build in a few extra minutes at the end of the lecture so that crucial points don’t get lost in your students’ preparation for exodus.
Just as with written communications, you should be able to express the gist of your lecture in one sentence. After you’ve written that sentence, express the four or five essential points you want to leave your students with and add them to the outline. Next, define the elements of your key points and plan effective examples or analogies for illustrating them. Plan or prepare any chalkboard diagrams, slides, case studies, transparencies, or demonstrations that will help your students. Finally, write a summary of the lecture to tie together loose ends for them.
Rather than jumping immediately into unfamiliar material, you can briefly review the preceding lecture, show how the new material will fit into your overall plan, answer a few questions referring to earlier material, or preview the lecture you’re about to present. Establish a procedure that lets the students know whether they can interrupt with questions or should wait until you’ve finished your presentation to ask them.
You may want to begin the lecture by writing on the board or on a transparency a question composed from your gist statement and abbreviated versions of the key points you plan to cover during the lecture. Next, discuss the key points, using verbal illustrations and visuals wherever appropriate. Conclude with your summary and then take questions on the content of the lecture.
Students often learn as much from asking questions as from listening to the lecture. In addition, allowing questions can enrich the class for the better students, as well as permit slower students to clarify difficult material. If questions aren’t forthcoming, be prepared with some of your own, especially the open-ended variety that encourages analytical thinking and intellectual exploration and has no right or wrong answer.
Monitor your speaking skills as carefully as you can. Avoid reading your lectures verbatim. An extemporaneous (prepared but not memorized or read) presentation, in which you refer to notes, allows for frequent eye contact. Speak loudly and not too rapidly, varying your voice and pace as you change content and emphasis. Depend on the feedback you get from maintaining eye contact to tell you when to speed up or slow down. Use gestures if they’re natural for you, and adjust the gesture to the size of the room. Try taping your actual lecture and listening to yourself for trouble spots.
Some GTAs teach discussion sections offered in conjunction with large lecture courses. Since attendance at these sessions isn’t mandatory, advanced students might not attend unless your sessions seem particularly helpful. If you allow your sessions to deteriorate into gripe sessions instead of good reviews of the subject matter, your student evaluations may include a comment like this one: “The GTA was pretty friendly, but the class was a waste of time because discussions rambled a lot.” If the professor responsible for the lecture guides your discussions, you will have an easy term. Otherwise, you’ll need the following pointers.
You certainly should be able to answer questions about the course asked of you by the students in your discussion session. Before the term begins, meet with the professor to learn about the course, the textbook, grading procedures, and your responsibilities in lecture and discussion sections. If your professor isn’t entirely helpful, confer with other GTAs so that some degree of quality control exists among the discussion sections.
Attend all lectures so you know what it is you are supplementing and clarifying for the students. Even when you know a subject thoroughly, you’ll need to know the emphases of the lectures. Try to listen from a student’s perspective, as if you don’t already know the material yourself. That way you can anticipate likely confusion. Carefully noting verbal and nonverbal reactions of students listening to the lecture and observing areas of the content that elicit more questions than usual can give you clues to what your session should cover.
Besides attending the lectures, read the textbook assignments, again with an eye to what content is likely to confuse students for whom the material is unfamiliar. Be sure to ask the professor about material that confuses even you before you try to explain it to your discussion session.
Since your function is chiefly to clarify what students have heard in the lecture, you’ll want to design the content of your sessions accordingly. In large lecture classes, students have very little actual contact with the professor. Your relationship with your students can allow you to communicate to the professor how well students are learning the material or keeping up with assignments. The professor may then adjust the pace of the course and the content of examinations based on sound knowledge of where the students are.
Knowing what the students are getting and what they’re having trouble with also allows you to plan effective discussion classes. Your function is not to repeat the lecture; rather, you will want to emphasize, clarify, and even elaborate upon the content covered. Learning is greatly facilitated by repetition. Presenting “old” material from a new angle often illuminates it for students. Perhaps you need to break a large topic down into smaller units or design a problem-solving session that encourages students to practice the troublesome technique or confusing formula.
If students are asked what they want to review, they often have trouble identifying specific areas. When you have prepared well, you know most of what they haven’t understood. You may also begin a discussion session by reviewing the main points of the lecture and encouraging questions from the students as you go along. Going further into detail than the lecture allowed can also open up difficult concepts for students.
Students who are confused because they lack the necessary background information for the content may need a lecture from you that can catch them up. On the other hand, in the unlikely case that the lectures are totally comprehensible for all students, you can augment the lectures or explore an interesting or important issue more deeply by using the discussion method described below.
Leading a discussion is probably the most difficult type of teaching there is, yet it may also be the most important activity for promoting analytical and creative thinking by students. Much of the success of a discussion is dependent on the quality of your planning for it.
Assess goals for the discussion based on your evaluation of which materials your students already understand and which areas still need to be explored. Consider whether you want your students to apply newly learned concepts, mull over new subject matter, learn to analyze arguments critically, or hear each other’s points of view. Each of these activities requires different leadership from you and different responses from your students.
Tell students what you expect the discussion to accomplish. Ideally, you should give them an assignment that will provide them with a common body of knowledge and focus for their discussion. Handouts of study questions which students might think about or respond to informally in writing beforehand can be very helpful. A five-minute summary at the end of the discussion will help your students take with them a meaningful impression.
A helpful three-step questioning strategy for discussion follows:
1. Ask informational questions to make sure that the students have grasped the basic data. For instance, you might begin a discussion of Plato’s Republic by asking questions such as the following: What are the basic components of Plato’s ideal state? According to Plato, what are the characteristics of a good ruler?
2. Ask questions requiring students to explain relationships among the units of information and to form general concepts. For instance, you might ask questions similar to these: How does the allegory of the cave fit into the rest of the work? What are Plato’s criticisms of Athenian society?
3. Ask questions that require students to apply the new data to different situations and to concepts and principles they have developed. For instance, ask this question: How might Plato criticize a contemporary American university?
Once your students are comfortable with you, encourage them to learn each other’s names so that they can interact during discussion. Remember that the lecture is a monologue, the question-and-answer session is a dialogue, and the true discussion is a community activity. The physical arrangements for the activity may promote discussion. If you stand in the front of the room, you may encourage a monologue or a dialogue. Sitting as part of a circle will increase the sense of community. If the class is too big for comfortable discussion, divide the students into groups. You can circulate among the groups and then reassemble the class before the end of the period to ask one person to share with the class each group’s responses. Asking another student to comment on a student’s response instead of doing it yourself may also encourage participation.
Your prompting questions will affect the quality of the discussion. For example, if you ask for “three reasons that,” students may feel you are looking for preconceived answers and be nervous about responding. Facilitate discussion by directing answers to the entire group and waiting patiently for answers, rather than hurriedly answering the question yourself, rephrasing it, or adding further information. Waiting patiently for an answer suggests to students that you are willing to give them time to think and really want to hear their responses. Besides, the silence during your wait may make some students uncomfortable enough to say something just to get the ball rolling.
Labs are offered in conjunction with large lecture courses so that students may acquire technical skills and apply concepts and theories presented in lecture. This hands-on experience encourages students to develop a spirit of inquiry and some appreciation of the scientific method. As a Graduate Assistant you are uniquely both a professional and a student and thus can best relate to students as discoverers in the lab.
Safety becomes especially important when you are directly responsible for the health and well-being of 25 or 30 laboratory students. If your department’s orientation doesn’t cover safety procedures, the professor or lab coordinator in charge of the course will probably take responsibility for describing departmental policies. Check with your department for safety procedures.
During the first week of the term, you will want to demonstrate to students basic procedures such as proper techniques for decanting and mixing liquids, handling glassware, organizing a work area, and using burners and other equipment. Your students need to learn these precautionary measures that you now perform almost unconsciously.
The best way to prepare for a lab is to conduct the experiment yourself with the students’ lab manual in hand. You’ll discover whether directions are clear and whether students have the skills necessary to complete the experiment. You’ll know exactly how many beakers, burners, pipettes, and petri dishes to reserve. Jot down notes as you go to help you anticipate what to expect, what problems students may encounter, and what questions they may ask.
Students who have no understanding of why an experiment is important will derive little knowledge from conducting it. In order to be relatively sure that your students are prepared for the lab, devise some means to ensure that students are familiar with the lab before they come to class. You might have your students submit a statement of purposes and procedures or an explanation of why and how the experiment is relevant to the course.
At the beginning of the lab, review the purposes and procedures of the experiment, perhaps detailing how the experiment relates to current developments in the discipline. Ask for questions, anticipate and clarify any ambiguities in the lab manual, and demonstrate special procedures now rather than interrupt the experiment later.
If both you and your students are well prepared, you will be free to perform your most important role, that of guiding the students’ development. Try to talk with each student at least once during the experiment. Technical and procedural matters can be handled quickly in a few words of advice or a very brief demonstration, but your primary role is to help students master the steps of scientific inquiry—recognizing and stating a problem so that it can be explored, collecting data, forming and testing hypotheses, and drawing conclusions.
Among the ways to help students solve problems for themselves is using an abbreviated version of the three-step discussion process treated earlier, tailored to the student and the experiment. Perhaps you’ll want to make yourself available to answer rather than ask questions. However you approach teaching problem solving, try to resist the easy solution of giving outright answers or advice. Try instead to ask a series of questions that lead students to discover the reasons for themselves rather than simply explaining why the experiment failed. Students will learn more and be better prepared for their next problem if you can teach them a reliable process for problem solving on their own.
Your methods of measuring student achievement should match your criteria and the course objectives that you have already established. Actually, written lab reports will probably be your only source of concrete information about students’ progress. However, if you talk with every student during every experiment, you will have a reasonably accurate idea of each student’s progress, though grading progress objectively still remains a challenge.
Explain your grading policy so that students know what to expect. Some students will be more willing to experiment, explore, and inquire if they know you will not penalize them for an incorrect answer—assuming, of course, that you also require them to include in the lab report a reasonable explanation for the incorrect result. As for the lab report itself, check with the professor teaching the course. Each department uses a slightly different format, and each professor emphasizes different elements in grading reports.
Writing is a tool for communication, and it’s reasonable for you to expect coherent, intelligent, lucid prose from your students, regardless of your discipline. However, writing is also a mode of learning and a way for students to discover what they think about a subject. You should be willing to participate in this learning and discovery process as well as grade the product.
More and more, informed instructors are involving themselves in their students’ writing (and learning) process rather than simply “correcting” the final product. Having students submit first drafts allows the instructor to give constructive criticism on content, organization, and presentation. One-to-one conferences after the student has read the critique and perhaps begun the second draft are invaluable. The second draft is graded and usually demonstrates significant improvement, especially in the depth of analysis and support for an argument so often found lacking in one-draft student papers. Avoid giving too much help, so that the student merely recopies a paper that the instructor has practically rewritten or dictated. This can be challenging.
Peer feedback groups work especially well when students read each other their first drafts for critique. A suggested protocol for such a group follows: each student reads a draft twice. The first time through, group members only listen; on the second reading they write comments on their photocopied copy of the piece, or fill out a form designed to address problems specific to the assignment. Then, one at a time, the group members offer their comments and suggestions to the writer. Hearing their peers’ suggestions for improving their drafts helps student writers to accept your comments in the framework of a varied reading audience.
It is important to emphasize with students that all good writing involves revising; their first drafts will not be their best drafts. Once the final draft is in your hands, try to reward the writer by responding to the work with more than just a grade. Write comments judiciously and legibly, using a separate comments sheet if necessary. Don’t take on the task of completely editing papers. Try to select only the most insightful passages for praise and only the most shallow responses or repeated errors for comment. Some instructors like to use tape-recorded responses, a procedure that is handled very simply by requesting that each student turn in a blank tape with the paper. Make your comments detailed enough that the student knows specifically what worked and what didn’t and can learn from the comments in order to perform better next time.
Let students know your criteria for grading papers ahead of time—what you expect and grade on in general, what you are looking for especially in this assignment, and any problems you anticipate in a particular assignment. Preparing a handout to guide students through particularly difficult writing tasks is helpful and appreciated. Your experience should tell you the kinds of things students don’t know about writing summaries or answering essay questions, enabling you to provide students with guidelines. Establish a five- or six-point scale based on such elements as focus, organization, support/elaboration, grammar, and mechanics. This practice can save you a lot of work when you’re grading, not to mention hours of justifying grades to disappointed students.
Reading 50 papers or 200 essay exams on the same topic or in response to the same questions can be a stultifying experience. Worse, if you read too long, your evaluation may become colored by irritability or exhaustion. It’s helpful to sample the papers (without marking them) to get an idea of the range of quality you can expect. You may even want to rank-order all the papers before deciding what quality represents an A, a B, and so forth. Take frequent breaks while reading papers and make sure you stop when you know you’re too tired to be objective. When you start again, read over the last couple of papers you graded to make sure you were fair and that your comments were as careful as comments you made on earlier papers.
Most GTAs have some responsibility for grading student performance (weekly quizzes or essays, midterm or final examinations, lab reports or term papers), and those with considerable autonomy often assign final grades as well. Such responsibility means that you’ll need to develop a sense of academic standards as quickly as possible, explain them clearly at the beginning of the course, and apply them consistently throughout the term. Grading objectively is a goal to which all teachers aspire, but be aware of the difficulty of reaching it. Remember especially that students will not respect your grading standards unless you provide them with a means of meeting your expectations.
As you will know from your own experiences, students can be very sensitive to grades and the criteria on which they’re based. Grading can be a thankless job, but since it is unavoidable, you need to be prepared to explain your grading policy on the first day of class; that means, of course, that you must have answered them for yourself well in advance. This is particularly important if you’re one of several GTAs assigned to a large lecture class. Since the professor in charge may divide tests among you for grading, your standards need to be uniform. Plan to meet with the other GTAs to ensure reliability of your grading and to agree among you whether you will permit make-ups, extra time, late papers, and other special concerns of students. These concerns may seem trivial to you, but variation among GTAs in applying standards is noticeable to students, and you will want to avoid time spent later in justifying your grades to students.
Be sure to keep accurate records of your evaluation of each student’s performance throughout the term. You should also keep your records around for a while after the term ends since students may come back later to question a grade, finish an incomplete, ask you to write a recommendation, or file a grievance. Accurate records will also help you to justify or to re-evaluate a student’s final grade if necessary.
Depending upon policy in your department, you may be required to write quizzes, tests, or examinations. Making up a test is a difficult and important skill that affects student grades significantly. Be sure to allow enough time ahead of the test for thoughtful construction and for duplication of the test. Mistakes on tests and accidents in duplication can frustrate your purpose for testing, which, after all, is meant to measure your effectiveness as a teacher as well as your students’ progress.
The first step in designing a test is to consider your reasons for giving the test in the first place. Will this quiz monitor your students’ progress so that you can adjust the pace of the course? Will this midterm challenge students to apply concepts to which they have been exposed so far? Will this final examination provide the quantitative data you need to determine students’ grades for the term?
With your immediate purpose clearly in mind you can begin designing the test itself, matching the exam with the course objectives, subject matter, time allotted, and size of the class. The first step, of course, is to think carefully about the goals that you (or the professor whom you assist) have set for students. Next, consider how you can best evaluate the extent to which students have achieved those goals. Perhaps a certain type of test will suggest itself immediately (multiple choice, matching, fill in the blanks, short answer, problem solving, essay), but you can certainly use a combination of test types on the same examination, depending on the nature of the material your students should know.
Though it’s appropriate to design multiple choice and matching examinations that test students’ abilities to analyze and evaluate material, it is difficult. Objective examinations are more often used to test recall and comprehension. Moreover, reading 200 essay exams might be impractical, particularly when objective exams can be machine scored in a fraction of the time it would take to read the essay exams. Decisions concerning test design may require that you factor in expedience with test effectiveness.
If you must give objective exams, consider sources of test questions other than your own invention. A teacher’s manual containing collections of test questions may accompany your textbook. However, don’t assume that such questions are of high quality. Your professor or former teachers of the course may be willing to share test items with you. In either case, however, the general rule is to adapt rather than adopt. An existing item will rarely fit your specific needs, and entire examinations (with instructors’ corrections and comments) are often passed from one generation of students to the next.
Second, design multiple choice items so that students who know the subject or material adequately are more likely to choose the correct alternative and students with less adequate knowledge are more likely to choose an incorrect alternative. That may sound obvious and simple to do, but you will want to avoid writing items that lead students to choose the right answer for the wrong reasons. For instance, avoid such giveaways as making the correct answer the longest one, the one with the most qualification (using modifiers such as sometimes, usually, frequently, occasionally), or the only one that’s grammatically appropriate to the stem. Even a careless shift in tense or subject-verb agreement can inadvertently suggest the correct answer. Designing fair multiple-choice items is not easy.
Finally, in trying to design questions that challenge your students, you can slip into writing items that require only rote recall but are nonetheless excessively difficult because they are taken from obscure passages (footnotes, for instance) or based on inconsequential details. Some items requiring only recall might be appropriate, but try to design most of the items to tap students’ understanding of the subject, and refrain from extracting these items from details in the readings.
Conventional wisdom accurately portrays short answer and essay examinations as the easiest to write and the hardest to grade, particularly if they’re graded well. However, essay items are also considered the most effective means of assessing a student’s mastery of a subject. If it’s crucial that students understand a particular concept, you can force them to respond to a single question, but you might consider asking them to write on one or two of several options instead. GTAs often expect even more of students than do experienced professors. Remember, however, that their mastery of a subject depends as much on their preparation and experience as it does on diligence and intelligence. Design your questions so that all students can answer at their own levels. A fair test question is one that is broad enough to allow weaker students to provide at least the basic factual information all students should know but that also allows stronger students to elaborate.
You are hired as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, not as an adviser, counselor, or psychologist. Nonetheless, students will ask your advice about other classes or instructors in your department, whether to drop chemistry instead of English, or whether to major in drama instead of business. Occasionally, you will become involved in a student’s personal life. These realities of life as a GTA may warrant some general advice on handling the disconcertingly fuzzy areas of your relationships with your students.
Effective teaching depends upon a healthy relationship between instructor and students, whatever that means. For a GTA, defining such a relationship is difficult, considering that you may be only three or four years older than most of your students. While some of your students will be in awe of you because you are teaching at such a tender age and must therefore be brilliant, others may at first discount you as “only a GTA.” You will want to reach a compromise somewhere between the exalted, unapproachable genius misconception and becoming “only a GTA.”
The most important way to earn respect is to give respect. Most students are serious about college and will assume responsibility for coming to class, turning in assignments, reading assigned material, and taking exams. Offer students a challenge, but be receptive to real problems and offer them trust rather than skepticism when difficulties arise. If you respect your students, they are most likely to respect you as a teacher, even if you are close to their age.
You also earn the respect of your students by controlling their learning environment. You should not tolerate the behavior of students who disrupt class by repeatedly coming in late, talking to other students during class, or arguing with you. Offer to answer an irrelevant question or to continue a heated discussion outside of class, during your office hours. Don’t acknowledge flippant remarks, and don’t try to lecture over students who are talking among themselves. If your class respects you, a quiet look at the talkers should elicit enough peer pressure to silence them.
If none of these body language and interpersonal communication devices works, choose your next step carefully. Do not act on the anger of the moment. Decide whether it would be more effective to confront the student in class, either directly or indirectly, with a single well-chosen remark, or to discuss the problem openly with the student during office hours. Consult departmental policy and try these avenues first before you resort to asking the offending student to leave the classroom. Whatever you do, deal with the problem before it grows out of control.
Establishing rapport with your students and earning their respect eventually may result in students’ discussing personal concerns with you. Perhaps the student wants only to talk to someone, and you happen to be convenient and receptive. On the other hand, the student may frankly ask for your advice. In either case, you have several responsibilities. First, treat the student’s problem seriously and confidentially. Second, respond professionally but absolutely do not assume an expertise you don’t have. Third, reassure your student and direct him or her to the appropriate University support service. An excellent list of these support services can be found in the University of Alabama Teaching Handbook, which is available at the Center for Teaching and Learning.
We hope you find the Graduate Assistant Guide to be a useful source of information. If you have any comments or suggestions to improve the Guide, please call the Graduate School at 348-8283/8284, or e-mail Dr. John Schmitt.
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