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Some Grad Students Make Terrific Teachers

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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The posting below talks about the often overlooked value of graduate

student teaching assistants to undergraduate education. It appeared

as is an op-ed piece in the August 31, 2000 issue of the Detroit Free

Press. The author is by Constance E. Cook, an associate professor of

education and director of the Center for Research on Learning and

Teaching at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and is reproduced

with her permission. She can be contacted at: .


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


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From: Sometimes, grad students can make terrific teachers

August 31, 2000

Detroit Free Press



THE University of Michigan offers a summer orientation program for

new undergraduate students and their parents. At some point in the

program, parents often ask how their son or daughter can avoid having

graduate student instructors. They fear that being taught by a

graduate student will mean their children will be learning less.

This fear is not surprising. The media regularly report that graduate

students teach too many undergraduate classes at our nation's

research universities. When the New York Times reviewed "Reinventing

Undergraduate Education," the 1998 report from the Carnegie

Foundation, the article led with a statement that universities "are

shortchanging undergraduate students," especially because they have

"consigned (them) to classes taught by graduate assistants."

I believe undergraduates derive educational benefits from graduate

student instructors. GSIs make it these allow for more exposure to

the latest technology, individual attention and active learning. At

U-M, GSIs are members of a highly selective group. They compete for a

limited number of graduate student teaching positions. As a result,

most GSIs who enter the classroom have demonstrated both the

intellectual acuity and the desire to be in that position.

Since graduate students also take courses and do assignments, they

have special empathy for the challenges of undergraduates, both in

the classroom and beyond. They can give a sense of what

undergraduates will face when they embark on careers or graduate

school, and they provide windows into other cultures and other parts

of the world.

Graduate students are on the cutting edge of their disciplines,

learning the latest theories, analyzing the most current data and

reading the best new literature. They are eager to share their

excitement and new knowledge with the undergraduates they teach.

Like faculty members, good graduate student teachers are not born,

they are made. At U-M, we try to create a strong foundation in

teaching and research during a student's graduate program. We do so

through the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching -- the U-M's

teaching enhancement center -- and through the GSIs' departments.

The center's consultants conduct orientations for new GSIs each term

and offer workshops all year long. For example, there are programs on

leading discussions,

student learning styles and developing course Web pages.

In addition, the teaching center has special programs for graduate

student mentors, the upper-level GSIs who advise their peers on

teaching-related issues. The mentors learn to conduct practice

teaching sessions, observe classes and offer constructive feedback to

their peers. Confidential consultations, as well as midterm feedback,

allows instructors to find out how their students are experiencing

their courses.

Notwithstanding all this support, most GSI training occurs within the

departments to ensure that the skills they are taught are content

specific. Faculty act as mentors in training sessions. Faculty and

GSIs are not an either/or proposition. GSIs rarely have full course

responsibility; most often, faculty oversee them.

Good teaching, like good research, comes from hard work, solid

training and dedication. It is misinformed to suggest that graduate

students -- simply because they are graduate students -- make poor

teachers. With training, they have the potential to become the best

teachers a student has ever had.