The teaching of physics by Teaching Assistants (TAs) and Teaching Fellows (TFs) is both a responsibility and a privilege. A student is appointed to this position because the Department believes students have the ability necessary to pursue graduate studies and at the same time to assist in the education of less mature students. It is expected that the latter activity will deepen your own knowledge of physics. Read and assimilate any information provided to you at the University's TA Orientation Sessions. (The information is available in the online copy of the University's TA's Handbook and resources found HERE, our Department's TA-Instructor Responsibility Guidebook or in this Contractural Obligations memo)
Resources for Current Graduate Students
Duties and Help
Duties of TAs and TFs are essentially the same. TFs are more experienced graduate students who may be expected to handle more challenging assignments. As a teacher you should:
- Thoroughly review the Department's TA/TF-Instructor Responsibility Guidebook as well as the University's TA resources, both mentioned above.
- Prepare for and meet all assigned classes promptly at the scheduled time and place. If for any reason you cannot meet your class, you should inform the person in charge of the course in advance, the DGS, and Graduate Administrator to take appropriate action. If you cannot arrive on campus one week before the beginning of a term, you should inform us in advance and state when you will arrive. Inability to arrive before the start of classes may result in cancellation of your appointment.
- Grade problems and laboratory reports and return them promptly to students in accordance with the procedure explained to you by the person in charge of your course.
- Proctor and grade examinations. You will also be asked to proctor when additional coverage is needed for another class.
- Hold, and announce to your class, regular office hours for your students.
- Serve in the Resource Room (pre-COVID held in 312 Thaw Hall) to answer students' questions. The Resource Room is a room staffed by Teaching Assistants,Teaching Fellows, and (when the budget permits) approved UTAs, for the purpose of answering questions for our elementary physics and astronomy students.
- Keep in close touch with the person in charge of your course so that you may coordinate your activities with his/hers and inform him/her of difficulties students may be encountering.
Preparation for Teaching
You must prepare yourself for your classes by studying the text and working the assigned problems. You must prepare for supervising a laboratory by doing the assigned experiment. In addition, satisfactorily complete Physics 2997, Teaching of Physics, during the first term that you are here.
Workshops, as well as an Achievement in Pedagogy program, provided by the Graduate Student Teaching Initiative (Center for Teaching and Learning)
During the term your students will fill out a form evaluating your teaching. Your class will be visited at times by the person in charge of your course, and possibly by other faculty members. Try not to be disconcerted by these visits. Their purpose is to check on the accuracy of student evaluations, and to see if there are ways you can be helped in your teaching.
At the end of the term, the departmental committee for the evaluation of teaching will assign you a grade based on the evaluation of your teaching by your students and the person in charge of your course. If your grade is less than satisfactory, the department chairperson will meet with you to see what can be done to improve your teaching.
The Department has established the Myron P. Garfunkel Excellence in Teaching Award in recognition of exceptional graduate student teaching. This award is given to one or two graduate student teachers on the basis of recommendations from the teaching evaluation committee and others.
Teaching A Department Course!
Teaching Assistants who have an excellent student record and excellent teaching evaluations may be offered the opportunity to teach a Summer Session I or II (6 week) introductory course. In some instances, the opportunity could be made available in either the fall or spring term. In early February, the Department Chair's assistant will announce any summer session openings to the graduate students. Interested parties will be evaluated, meet with the Chair, and in some cases, perform a mock lecture. Decisions will be made relatively quickly. Those chosen to teach will be assigned as Teaching Fellows, if not already a TF. In addition to meeting with the Department Chair as a group, these students will be required to attend a few brief workshops (typically held in late April and early May by CIDDE. This information will be provided to you by the Graduate Administrator.
According to University regulations, you are not to work over 20 hours, on the average, per week. This includes contact hours, preparation time, office hours, grading, proctoring, and time in the Resource Room. It does not include time in English remedial instruction, nor time in teaching practice, PHYS 2997.
Normally a full TA assignment consists of:
- 3-4 recitation sections of Physics 0174, Physics 0175, or Physics 0110/0111 (all elementary physics courses) plus up to 5 Resource Room hours.
- 2 Physics 0212, or 2 Physics 0219 laboratory sections (both are elementary physics laboratory courses) and 1-2 Resource Room hours
- 1 Physics 0212 or 0219 laboratory section + 3-5 Resource Room hours
Minimal Resource Room hour(s) also required for the following.
- 1 Physics 1361 laboratory section (Optics Laboratory)
- 1 Physics 0577 laboratory section (Modern Phys Lab (honors section))
- 1 Physics 0525 laboratory section (Analog Digital Electronics Laboratory)
- 1 Physics 1426 laboratory section (Modern Phys Lab)
When possible, all recitation sections will be in courses taught by same the lecturer.
On occasion, because of lack of proficiency in English, a TA may be assigned grading and proctoring duties in addition to an assignment as a laboratory aide to another TA. It is expected that all students whose English is deficient will correct that deficiency by attending required English courses and/or English Tutoring coordinated with the Department Graduate Administrator, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the English Language Institute.
Persons in charge of courses should expect TAs to work in compliance with the standards set forth above. If they find that a TA is working less than the normal amount, they may assign additional course-related duties. If the TA is working more than the normal amount, the lecturer should try to lighten the TA's load.
Sometimes it may be necessary for a TA to carry a more demanding workload than other TAs in a particular term. This could be a result of the course instructor's style of teaching. In such cases the department will try to adjust the load in a succeeding term to compensate.
Teaching assignments continue through the exam period and TA/TFs are to remain available until final grading is completed. Any TA or TF who experiences a problem connected with his/her teaching duties should try first to resolve it by talking with the person in charge of the course. If the problem cannot be resolved in this way, the TA or TF should first meet with the Director of Graduate Studies, and if needed, the Department Chairperson.