Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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: .
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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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SOME GRAD STUDENTS MAKE TERRIFIC TEACHERS
From: Sometimes, grad students can make terrific teachers
August 31, 2000
Detroit Free Press
BY CONSTANCE E. COOK
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
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
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.