Re: TA query

Heather Young-Leslie (youngl@FHS.CSU.MCMASTER.CA)
Sun, 13 Nov 1994 07:01:42 +0500

requirements that all T.A.s under go a certain number of hours [5?] of
teaching methodology. There is a new teaching support centre being set up
and by next year they should be affecting more [all?] the T.A.s.
At present however, both York and McMaster (the two schools I know
best) offer optional seminars/workshops on one day in the first week of
the new school year. These seminars include topics like:getting discussion
going, de-gendered language, anti-racist actions, prof-T.A. relations,
juggling work and research responsibilities.
As well, York T.A.s receive a periodic circular (bi-monthly, I
think) that includes teaching tips from other T.A.s and news about
work-related problems, state of the contract/union news, and in general
pep-talks on the importance of teaching.
In general however, I would say that most T.A.s consider the
seminars a waste of time after the first year, and learn to be T.A.s by
observation of other (past) T.A.s, apprenticeship and talking/ listening to
their fellow workmates.
Since I started as an undergraduate, the role of the T.A. has
changed greatly. In the 70's, my T.A was a marker and a support-person who
held hour long 'classes' where the topic was set by students who brought
their own questions. Attendence was optional. In the late 80s and 90s,
T.A.s are now asked to carry some of the more explicit teaching
responsibilites: the tutorials are acutally classes, with agendas and
goals set by the prof. Attendence is mandatory and counts as up to 15% of
the final grade (this is called 'participation') -that includes role call,
just like in high school.
McMaster's student newspaper used to publish an annual review,
usually in the first week of classes, of all the courses offered the
previous year, with comments on the Prof. and showing the avg. (mean)
grade. McMaster also polls students for their favorite/best T.A., but this
poll is generally disregarded since people who deal with large sections
are more likely to get greater numbers of votes than exellent T.A.s who
have small class sizes.
Both Mac & York offer Teaching excellence awards for their
faculty, but not for T.A.s
Class sizes have changed a lot too since the 70's, from a time
when one T.A. handled say 20-25 students, to now when they regularily have
a minimum of 50-60. Rates of pay have not increased in accordance with
increased workloads.T.A.s are still restricted to 10 hours/week over 8
months and contracts vary, but hourly rates of pay work out to something like
T.A.s are unionized, but those unions have poor bargaining power:
a shifting, constantly renewing membership (7 or 10 years at most for an
individual member, most for only 4 years) which means that members don't
know the issues of past agreements or past 'injustices'; the problem of
confusion between graduate student role and employee role (often a T.A.s
supervisor is their boss) which the University recognises on the one hand,
but refuses to acknowledge when it comes to bargaining; and in-house
notions of 'collegiality' which may be transferred to students' grant
recomendations and scholarship references, means that T.A.s go to the
bargaining table with little 'power'.
Finally, there are rumours/suspicions here that management is
trying to do away with T.A.s altogether, an ominous thought for
departments that depend upon T.A. positions to fund graduate students.
I would be interested in knowing what Temple has decided to do?
Heather Young-Leslie
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Ont. Midwifery Programme (McMaster) Anthropology, York University
Fontbonne Bldg, St. Joe's Hosp. Vari Hall, 4700 Keele St.
Hamilton. 521 6015 North York. 736-5261