Selecting and Training Graduate Teaching Assistants: Empowering Potential Colleagues in the Classroom

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Teaching assistants generally fall into one of two categories. The first is that of the reader or grader who assists a professor by evaluating written exams and papers. The second is the teaching assistant who develops personal contact with students by conducting review sessions, group or individual office hours, and/or class lectures.

During the author's 22-year tenure at The Heinz College of Public Policy and Information Systems at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA), she has worked with more than fifty TAs in the second category. What she's discovered is that the process of selecting and training TAs is as important to their success in the classroom as a good admissions process is to building an outstanding student body.

This presentation will describe a process for TA selection by answering each of the following questions:

1. How can a teaching assistant applicant pool be developed?
2. Once this pool is identified, what criteria determine which applicants qualify for a personal interview with the instructor?
3. During the interview, what kinds of questions elicit the most useful information?
4. Once chosen, what kind of training do new TAs receive? To what extent can current TAs contribute to the training process?
5. What are the potential benefits of such a time-consuming screening process?

The response to question #5 will address the extent to which the selection and training process described empowers development of teaching assistants as co-teachers. Responses to each question will include specific examples based on classroom experience but also leave time for audience questions and interactions at the end of the session.

Keywords: Training, Selection, Teaching Assistants, Collaboration, Empowerment, Learning
Stream: Curriculum and Pedagogy; Student Learning, Learner Experiences, Learner Diversity
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: , , Selecting and Training Graduate Teaching Assistants,

Dr. Pamela Lewis

Teaching Professor, H. John Heinz III College of Public Policy and Management/Information Systems, Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA, USA

Trained in English literature (M.A. Stanford University), opera performance (M.F.A. Carnegie Mellon), and speech and voice (D.A. Carnegie Mellon), Pamela has developed a flexible Strategic Presentation Skills curriculum that integrates traditional principles of rhetoric with presentation skills required for graduate training in public policy and arts management at the H. John Heinz III College at Carnegie Mellon University. She has given presentations on how this course can be used to develop leadership skills at annual conferences of The Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) and the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) in the USA. In July of 2007, she presented “Mission and Metaphor: Using the Language of Literature to Articulate Visions for Positive Social Change” at the 5th International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities at American University in Paris. This presentation was also based on her course curriculum. A premise of her work is that collaboration among instructor, teaching assistants, and students is essential for learning.

Ryan Menefee

Graduate Teaching Assistant, Strategic Presentation Skills, H. John Heinz III College, Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA, USA

Ref: L09P0953