ECH Teaching: Issues for Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs)

1 October 2014

Any one taking on a GTA position needs to ensure that they have established a clear understanding of the terms and conditions associated with employment at a particular institution. In many universities, such conditions are the subject of ongoing discussion at both department and institutional level, and it may well be worth seeking out ‘shop-floor’ views from those already engaged as GTAs before committing yourself, especially if you are seeking a position outside your ‘home’ department. The following list indicates some points on which you might seek clarification if it is not apparent from the details supplied by the department.

  • If the pay is hourly, what does the contract cover: does it include adequate preparation time, feedback, assessment work etc? If you are teaching seminars associated with a lecture course, are you expected to attend lectures and if so, is this paid or unpaid?
  • What support is provided from senior academic staff? Will a module leader offer peer observation, for example? What teaching materials/access to virtual learning environments are provided? Who will carry out assessment, or address complaints about teaching?
  • What space and facilities are available to GTAs to carry out their duties? (Not just teaching rooms, but appropriate places to prepare/relax between teaching sessions, to deliver feedback, or to be available to students)
  • What training is required/provided by the institution?
  • What expectations are there regarding the role of GTAs in student support?
  • What form of representation is provided for GTAs in departmental governance?

Two important contexts for GTA roles are employment law and universities’ responsibilities towards their students. The first sets certain basic parameters for terms and conditions, but also has implications for the number of times a person can be asked to deliver the same teaching without the university incurring additional obligations to that person. The second means that the university has a responsibility to ensure that the teaching delivered by GTAs meets professional standards. This means that training will be required, and a GTA should expect to have their teaching observed and marking monitored (and this is in the GTA’s interest in any case).

It is important also to clarify what role if any a GTA is required to play in pastoral support of students. Generally both support such as reference-writing and identifying or dealing with the consequences of students’ disabilities or personal circumstances fall outside the responsibilities of the GTA, but this will not stop students’ approaching them as a first point of contact or the GTA being the person first to identify an issue. It should be clear what an institution expects of its GTAs in such circumstances.

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