Teaching assistants help students, professors

Departments hire TAs based on budget, class loads and employment needs.

Adam Elrashidi

Heba Moussa said her introduction to American literature class might have been a lot more difficult had she not had her teaching assistant note the strengths and weaknesses of one of her papers.

Of approximately 4,300 graduate employees at the University, approximately 2,100 are teaching assistants, said Ryan Murphy, a Graduate Teaching and Research Assistants Coalition United Electrical Local 1105 organizer.

Moussa, a postsecondary student, said that because her TA was so helpful, she could deal with the stressful paper and earn a good grade.

Murphy, a doctoral candidate in the American studies department, said each department hires TAs based on budget, class loads and employment needs.

Bob Gehrz, a physics and astronomy professor, said TAs help professors and students alike by simply being available.

“(Professors) have so many students to teach,” Gehrz said. “The only way we can cut the classes down to the smallest possible size is by having some of the classes taught by TAs.”

Gehrz said TAs provide students individual attention and time, something some professors cannot always do.

Monica Berrier, a second-year doctoral student and philosophy TA, said she now understands difficulties some students have in relating to professors and knowing class expectations.

Gehrz also said talking to a TA is sometimes the only way for a student to get extra help in a class.

Rania Habib, a histology and biology TA, said her experiences taking classes helps her teach.

Habib, who has a degree in microbiology, said TAs are often helpful when professors become so immersed in the subject they are teaching that they might not realize some students are not grasping all aspects of the class.

“We were in that position once (as students). We know how to relate as to how to understand the material,” Habib said.

Although some TAs said it is easier to relate to students because they are students, some undergraduate students said they are not always able to trust their TAs.

Lars Gallagher, an economics junior, said some professors have established credibility with their subjects while TAs might still be learning the subject.

Gallagher said TAs do not always know the answer to every question that is brought up.

Janie Smith, a psychology sophomore, also said trust was an issue.

Smith said she was worried that because TAs were unable to relate to students’ situations, they would be unable to accurately grade assignments.

Smith also said professors should be responsible for grading.

Craig Johnson, a physiology junior, voiced the same concern.

He said that a student’s and TA’s personalities sometimes do not mesh, and it feels “unfair” to be taught by a TA with whom a student cannot connect.

Still, students said they valued the effort and help their TAs give because they realize TAs are both students and teachers.

“Being a TA takes a considerable amount of patience and understanding,” Moussa said. “I am not sure I’d be able to do it, but I appreciate those who can.”