Your College Teaching Assistantship
Teaching Assistants often serve as a liaison between faculty and students, and in this regard must negotiate professional, productive relationships with both groups. At the same time, Teaching Assistants are themselves students, and must work to consistently meet their own academic goals.
This section explains your responsibilities as a Teaching Assistant in the College and specifies the terms for your appointment as an instructor.
Harassment Prevention Training
All instructors, including Teaching Assistants, are required to complete the university’s Harassment Prevention Training prior to the beginning of their first semester of teaching. For continuing instructors, the course must be repeated every two years (or sooner if the first course is taken during the university’s collective non-training year). The training is offered in an online format and in live training sessions, if necessary. New Teaching Assistants will not be permitted to teach until they complete the training, print the certificate of completion, and submit the documentation to their home department.
Teaching Assistant Responsibilities
As a Teaching Assistant your duties will include a number of activities pertinent to the instruction and management of the course. These responsibilities will be determined by the supervising departmental faculty member and may include the following:
- Reading course texts and materials, attending lectures, assisting during lectures, leading discussion sections or lab meetings, guiding and monitoring lab exercises, and grading course assignments and exams.
- Teaching Assistants are expected to hold regular office hours, to respond to student concerns in a responsible manner, and to act as a liaison between the instructor and the students.
- In addition, the instructor may also ask the Teaching Assistant to prepare or photocopy course materials, organize and maintain audio/visual materials, procure and operate audio/visual equipment, and proctor quizzes and exams.
Teaching Assistant Workload
The standard assistantship award (50%) stipulates that teaching responsibilities occupy 50% of a graduate student’s total effort, allowing for the remaining 50% to be dedicated to the student’s individual academic pursuits. The duties of a Teaching Assistant should not exceed, on average, 20 hours per week. The time devoted to the assistantship may vary from day to day and week to week, given the fluctuation of demands during the various periods of the semester, but the total workload for the semester should not exceed the cumulative average. Furthermore, a Teaching Assistant should never work more than 8 hours a day or more than 40 hours a week, and deviations to the 20-hour standard should be kept to a minimum. If you find that you are consistently working more than 20 hours a week, consult with the instructor or seek advice from your department on how to manage your TA commitments more effectively or, if appropriate, to adjust your workload.
Additional employment is not advisable for Teaching Assistants, given the demands of full-time study, unless that work is directly related to a student’s academic development. In general, whether from outside employment or assistantship duties, the workload should be kept to 50% of the graduate student’s total effort. In summer, however, there is no restriction on employment.
Teaching Assistant Compensation
Compensation for Teaching Assistants consists of a stipend, tuition remission, health insurance, and dental insurance. In addition, Teaching Assistants are entitled to bookstore and pharmacy discounts. At the beginning of each semester, ask your home department for a TA sticker for your student identification card to receive these discounts.
Faculty Responsibilities to Teaching Assistants
At the beginning of each semester, the supervising faculty member must outline for the Teaching Assistant the scope and nature of his or her responsibilities. Included in this exchange should also be a discussion of the overall objectives of the course and section or lab, methods and standards for assessing student performance, and the protocol for addressing any problems or issues (such as cheating or grade conflicts) that might arise during the semester.
Though faculty may offer additional professional opportunities for their Teaching Assistants (e.g., an occasional lecture), such opportunities should be regarded as optional, not obligatory. Note that the responsibilities of the Teaching Assistant do not include tasks typically assigned to the instructor, such as creating course syllabi, lecturing the primary course material, providing grading standards, or bearing ultimate responsibility for the content and grading of examinations. If a Teaching Assistant is asked to give a lecture, the primary instructor should also be present.
Before the semester begins the instructor must also specify the criteria that will be used for the evaluation of the Teaching Assistant’s performance in the course. Following the completion of the course, the supervising faculty member will evaluate the Teaching Assistant, and his or her evaluation will become a permanent part of the Teaching Assistant’s file in the department.
Teaching Assistant Training and Support
All departments must facilitate training for new Teaching Assistants that will prepare them for their teaching responsibilities. The College offers a two-day training session in August every year for incoming Teaching Assistants, followed by a third day of training in laboratory safety and technology. During the College’s training session, Teaching Assistants are introduced to outstanding faculty and experienced Teaching Assistants who offer advice on how best to confront the many challenges of teaching at USC. Hands-on workshops and lab sessions on relevant technology provide the new Teaching Assistants with tangible tools for meeting these challenges. Download the schedule for the Fall 2008 TA Training Program.
Individual departments choose, at their discretion, how to supplement the introductory training. Some departments provide peer mentor support or regular meetings to address the specific demands of teaching courses in the home department. Contact your department to determine if any resources are available to you throughout the semester.
An additional resource, the Center for Excellence in Teaching (CET), administers spring training programs that are open to all Teaching Assistants at USC. Throughout the fall and spring semesters, CET also offers regular seminars and lectures on effective and innovative methods of course preparation and teaching, as well as sessions designed to guide graduate students in their development as emerging scholars.
For international students, CET conducts the International Teaching Assistant Institute, a week-long introduction to the characteristics and standards of university education in the United States. This program, offered in association with the American Language Institute (ALI), focuses on English communication skills and accepted classroom practices at an American university.
If a Teaching Assistant has a problem or complaint regarding the conditions of his or her assistantship, the issue should be brought to the attention of the supervising faculty or staff to whom the Teaching Assistant is responsible. If the nature of the problem precludes this approach, the Teaching Assistant should consult with the chair of the department or program. If a solution cannot be achieved through this process, the Teaching Assistant should bring the problem to the attention of the Vice Dean (Academic Programs). If the issue remains unresolved, the Teaching Assistant should refer the dispute to the Graduate School by contacting the Assistant Dean for Student Services, Stephanie Ferguson (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Graduate Student in Residence
The Graduate Student in Residence is a representative of the USC graduate and professional student body who acts within the Graduate School to advance issues of importance to the university’s graduate and professional students. The Graduate Student in Residence meets with individual students who have questions or concerns about graduate student life and advises them on relevant university policy and practices. The Graduate Student in Residence also serves as a liaison between the Graduate and Professional Student Senate and the university administration. To contact the Graduate Student in Residence or to learn more about becoming a Graduate Student in Residence, access the relevant portion of the Graduate School website.
Teaching Assistant Awards
University Teaching Award
The University Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award is granted for exceptional teaching and academic excellence on the part of a Teaching Assistant. This award recognizes a particular Teaching Assistant’s method of instruction that inspires enthusiasm and love of learning among students. One award of $1,000 is presented each year at the Academic Honors Convocation to acknowledge the significant role that Teaching Assistants play in carrying out the university’s mission. Departments may nominate a Teaching Assistant for this award on the basis of innovative instructional techniques, contributions to instruction outside the classroom, and efforts to improve one’s teaching, among other merits.
General Education Teaching Award
Four General Education Teaching Awards of $1,000 are granted annually to Assistant Lecturers or Teaching Assistants whose sections are associated with General Education classes. Departments in the College nominate Teaching Assistants for these awards. Recipients are honored at the College’s General Education Teaching Awards ceremony held in December.
Graduate Assistant Handbook
Like all Graduate Assistants, Teaching Assistants must remain committed to their own course of graduate study. See the Graduate Assistant Handbook for more information on these obligations.