During my undergraduate studies, I was highly influenced by my English 1101 instructor. She was a graduate teaching assistant (GTA), and she was very passionate about teaching writing and helping her students understand how to construct and support arguments successfully. I began my college career with an undeclared major, but as soon as I enrolled in English 1101 and began classes with my GTA, I realized what my academic path would be: I decided to pursue my studies in English. My experience was not uncommon—undergraduates who take their first course in a given subject from a graduate student often decide to major in that subject (Bettinger, Long, and Taylor, 2016). The influence that my instructor had on me came from her attentiveness to our needs as students. She not only found ways to connect with our class to better help us understand the course material, but she was also knowledgeable about resources beyond the classroom that would support our learning and enhance our college experience.
Being knowledgeable about outside resources and opportunities for your undergraduate students is beneficial to your development as a GTA, because those same resources can serve you as well. Take the time to become well-informed about the resources your institution and nearby organizations provide for both undergraduate and graduate students. For example, you will want to advise undergraduates about the availability of campus resources like study help, academic advisory services, special needs services, and more (Park, 2004). Whether you are a local or international GTA, you need to be prepared with the disciplinary knowledge, skills, and resources to better serve your students and your own development as a GTA.
Take advantage of the different resources around you that will further your overall professional development. Because every campus has its own unique offerings and style of delivery, the names and titles of the resources may change, but the services and resources may be similar. Take the time to research these resources on your campus, surrounding communities, or online, so that you can access them for your own needs and share them with your students as well.
Here are a few ways to get started:
The Graduate Library
You should become acquainted with your graduate library and the graduate librarians for your own studies and scholarship. However, if you are teaching or interested in teaching, you should access to books and articles about the latest information regarding learning-centered approaches to class instruction. I mention learning-centered education because it is the popular approach to teaching in North American universities. Beyond learning about approaches to teaching, you can also find GTA training materials to help you with class planning, projects, and activities, as well as assessment and feedback. Being familiar with your library will also give you the confidence to encourage your students to make use of the various library services to help them with their research.
During your studies, you may have a stronger background in teacher-oriented instruction and may want to familiarize yourself with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). SoTL research often focuses on learning-centered instruction, which includes shaping your class in a way that optimizes student learning through active engagement (Doyle, 2008). While a teacher-centered approach to education may be more familiar to you as a GTA (Meadows et al., 2015), a learner-centered approach will help you familiarize yourself with your classroom needs. Access the latest scholarly work about learning-centered teaching and other SoTL subjects through the library’s databases.
Many international GTAs come from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and they may need some assistance regarding English communication skills. Higher education institutions usually house an English as a Second Language (ESL) center or have partnerships with nearby centers that can provide graduate international students with services like tutoring in writing, reading, pronunciation, public speaking, and mentoring. As a GTA you can also direct your own international students to the ESL center to receive assistance with their English communication skills.
Obtaining assistance with writing is a beneficial activity for all students at any level of education or discipline, and GTAs are not an exception. In fact, GTAs can benefit from having a different set of eyes take a look at their essays, as well as course materials and syllabi. Writing center assistance is often available by appointment, online, or walk-in. They provide support to students who need help with their writing, from brainstorming to editing a final draft. Make sure you check your institution’s website to see if the center also has a an online presence and resources like writing guides, workshops, and webinars. Also, encourage your own students to stop by the writing center to seek feedback on their writing assignments.
Cultural Centers and Student Organizations
Cultural diversity and awareness are part of the college experience, including at the graduate level. As GTAs who will be interacting with students from all types of backgrounds, it is important to understand how your knowledge of diversity will impact your relationship with your students. Your campus may also have a cultural center that provides spaces where you can interact with others and celebrate diversity, like Global Village at Kennesaw State University. Also, your campus may host student organizations that are cultural-based, faith-based, political, academic, or professional. These cultural centers and organizations are as much of a resource for you to increase your intercultural awareness, as they are for your students to find a place where they can meet other students from diverse backgrounds and interests.
Teaching and Learning Centers on your campus
While the previous resources may be beneficial to both graduate and undergraduate students, this resource is specific to GTAs. Because your GTA position may be your first encounter with instructing a class, it will be very beneficial for you to obtain an outsider’s perspective on your class approach and overall presentation as an academic. Centers for Teaching and Learning support your teaching through professional development services and activities for faculty and GTAs. CETL-like places may also refer you to academic resources to increase your knowledge of instruction and teaching approaches. Some CETL services for GTAs include a review of your course materials, teaching- and career-oriented webinars and workshops, individual consultations, and classroom observations. Classroom observations are a great way to enhance your instructor skills, since being observed and receiving feedback can help you improve your teaching to better serve your students (Boman, 2013).
Keep in mind that knowing the resources on your campus benefits both you and your students. Take the time to find the resources, work on your professional development, and remember the positive impact you can make on your student’s lives and their academic achievements by sharing these resources with them.
Below you will find links to resources offered at Kennesaw State University.
C. P. (2004). The graduate teaching assistant (GTA): lessons from North American experience. Teaching in Higher Education,9(3), 349-361. doi:10.1080/1356251042000216660
Bettinger, E. P., Long, B. T., & Taylor, E. S. (2016). When inputs are outputs: The case of graduate student instructors. Economics of Education Review,52, 63-76. doi:10.1016/j.econedurev.2016.01.005
Boman, J. S. (2013). Graduate Student Teaching Development: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Training in Relation to Graduate Student Characteristics. Canadian Journal of Higher Education,43(1), 100-114.
Doyle, T. (2008). Helping students learn in a learner-centered environment: a guide to facilitating learning in higher education. Sterling, VA: Stylus Pub.
Meadows, K. N., Olsen, K. C., Dimitrov, N., & Dawson, D. L. (2015). Evaluating the Differential Impact of Teaching Assistant Training Programs on International Graduate Student Teaching. Canadian Journal of Higher Education,45(3), 34-55.