Students teaching students: Undergraduates learn from, relate to graduate student instructors

By By Esther Merono

By Esther Merono

Every semester at the U, hundreds of students attend courses taught by other students.

The U employs more than 450 graduate students as instructors and teaching assistants who teach or co-teach in some of the U’s 7,161 plus classes. The graduate student teachers are part of every college and department.

For undergraduates, this translates into a different kind of learning experience.

“Having a student as your teacher actually helps,” said Austin Smith, an undeclared freshman. “Since they’re still a student, they know what it’s like to be a student and can relate better to you.”

Rachel Meyer, a freshman in ballet, said her modern dance teacher is amazing.

“She knows what she’s doing, even if she is a grad student,” she said.

But other students, such as freshman English major Rachel Hanson, say that they think experts in a subject would better teach classes.

Patrick Scherbinske, an undeclared sophomore, said he doesn’t care who teaches “as long as they know the material and present it in a way that appeals to the students.”

Graduate student instructors spend hours on preparation, class time and correcting papers, in addition to tackling their own academic load.

Andrew Perkins teaches Computer Science 1021 three times a week while pursuing an advanced degree in computer science. Perkins said he spends three to four hours planning before each class. An additional hour is spent grading.

“You have to be familiar with the material you present by reading ahead of the class in the textbook, writing the lecture and then reading it through to get rid of the errors,” he said.

“Teaching for the first time puts pressure on you,” said Nadia Kulikova, a graduate student in Educational Leadership and Policy. “But it gets easier.”

She has co-taught a graduate level class during the summer and has taught the English as a Second Language class for the linguistics department.

“The next time you know what worked and what didn’t work,” she said.

In addition to the experience, students receive tuition waivers and salary as compensation.

Kulikova received $9,000 for teaching two or three classes for a full academic year.

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