The Chronicle’s View: Grad teachers need to make the grade

Graduate students who teach classes to undergraduates are a part of life at the U. Some of these graduate students take their responsibilities seriously and become one of their students’ best teachers. Others, to say the least, do not. But considering that these graduate students are supposed to be educating the tuition-paying undergraduate students at the U, they need to be held to a higher standard of excellence than that which is currently expected of them. The first step in improving the level at which graduate students teach is implementing a more rigorous application process. Before they are entrusted with teaching our students, graduate students should prove themselves worthy of the honor.

Graduate students should be able to demonstrate a certain level of proficiency, not only with the subject they are supposed to be teaching but also with teaching in general. Their communication skills need to be top-notch, which obviously limits graduate students who do not speak English proficiently. Graduate students teaching classes also need to realize that students automatically hold them to tougher standards than they do regular professors. Graduate students’ students may not take them as seriously as teachers, and therefore, they need to rise to the occasion and make that much more effort to excel at teaching their classes.

Because undergraduates are paying the same tuition regardless of whether their teacher is a fully tenured professor or a first-year graduate student, they should be able to expect the same level of professionalism from both.

Teaching a class at the college level is a privilege, not a right. Graduate students need to keep that in the forefront of their minds when they are entrusted with a class. Regardless of the skill and enthusiasm of the graduate student, however, they should not be teaching upper-level classes in any department. Department heads need to make a conscious effort to schedule only professors to teach 4000- and 5000-level courses that students are required to take in order to graduate. That being said, there is also a degree of responsibility that needs to be placed at the feet of undergraduate students.

Students need to take an active role in their education, and that means researching their teachers before ever attending the first class. If a student knows that he or she does not want a class that is taught by a graduate student as opposed to a professor, he or she needs to make the effort to research the class. If undergraduate students have any concerns or questions regarding a class, they should contact the prospective teacher and find out of what the class is going to consist. Ultimately, graduate students who teach classes need to be successful at explaining and teaching their subject matter, and the graduate students, department heads and undergraduates need to be diligent in making sure that this is happening.