Review: University TAs teach too much

University professors countered teaching assistants are an asset to their classrooms.

Elizabeth Cook

History professor David Chang said teaching assistants are invaluable to University classes.

“Some of the best instructors are teaching assistants,” he said.

But, according to the 2007 Princeton Review, many students think teaching assistants dominate the classroom.

The University’s Twin Cities campus ranked 12th among 361 schools for the number of TAs teaching upper level courses.

Susan Cable, graduate assistant employment manager, said during the 2005-2006 academic year, 411 teaching assistants were graders, assisting professors or teaching courses on their own.

The survey asked 115,000 students 80 questions, which breaks down to about 300 students per campus, to rate their schools’ student body, campus life and academics.

Mechanical engineering senior Blake Peterson said he’s had a lot of teaching assistants in his classes, but found them beneficial.

He said he’s never had a problem with respecting his teaching assistants, but could see it being a problem with other students because the assistants tend to be younger.

Chang said many undergraduate students might not realize how educated a teaching assistant is.

Chang said it would be impossible to conduct a discussion in a class with close to 300 students, but when teaching assistants hold separate groups of 20 to 30 students, the process of learning in simplified.

Teaching assistants also can be very energetic and hard-working since it’s a new experience for them, he said.

Cable said there are benefits to becoming a teaching assistant including potentially free tuition, a pay check and eligibility for a health care plan.

The pay for a teaching assistant is the same whether the person is a grader or teaching a class: a minimum hourly wage of $15.71 and a maximum of $24.47.

This fall is Dain Thul’s first year of graduate school at the University and he said he will grade assignments for a mechanical engineering class.

Thul said he’s excited about the opportunity, but his expertise is in physics and math.

“I’m TAing for a mechanical engineering class I’ve never even taken before,” he said.

Free tuition is one of the main reasons he decided to become a teaching assistant, he said.

Thul said he isn’t concerned about getting respect from students in class.

“I’m a couple years older,” he said. “At least I have a degree.”

David Nelsen, a second-year medical student, said he had a biology lab where his teaching assistant didn’t seem as knowledgeable as he hoped.

“I think he got stumped,” he said.

Kysa Koerner Hubbard is now a lecturer at the University, but filled the role of a grader and teacher for eight years.

Koerner Hubbard said being a grader was great because she got to “test the waters” by working in an actual classroom.

But teaching classes is what she really enjoyed doing.

“I loved the freedom and creativity to design your own (class),” she said.