Influence, standards of teaching assistants concern students
It’s no surprise for a college student to walk into a class the first day and be introduced to the two authoritative figures who will hold a heavy influence on their semester and their potential GPA: their professor and the teaching assistant.
TAs are typically undergraduate or graduate students who assist the professor in grading, tutoring or teaching the class if the professor is unavailable. TAs are everywhere, from the C.T. Bauer College of Business to the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.
It can be unsettling that the TA has a strong influence on the student’s grade in the class.
Students can study diligently for the course, but the TA has some say in their grades. This occurrence doesn’t usually happen in classes that teach math or science, but when you enter courses such as government, history or theater, it can become a huge problem.
The main complaints students have with TAs is that they grade the tests too hard, they are hard to understand or the student doesn’t feel comfortable having an undergraduate or post-baccalaureate student teach their class instead of the professor.
For example, suppose that there was a TA for an art history course at the University. The TA selected is a post-baccalaureate student with little knowledge on the specific material revolving around the course subject. The TA likes to teach or step in for the professor, only to give out erroneous information mixed in with unnecessary life stories. While pitched as a hypothetical scenario, this is an all-too common situation that students find themselves in when dealing with TAs.
It raises questions on whether it is appropriate for a department to hire a TA who isn’t a graduate student and whether it is OK for a TA to be an undergraduate student to begin with.
“I would try my best, but if I felt cheated on a grade and the TA was expecting more but not giving us enough to learn, I would give a complaint,” said chemical engineering senior Hari Patel. “I think it’s OK for a post-bac or undergrad to be a TA; I just think there should be a thorough evaluation before someone is given that responsibility. It depends on your department and your ability.”
First-year biomedical engineering graduate student Ernest Anoma was a TA during his undergraduate studies at UH.
Anoma believes TAs are “the Sparknotes to your class. You already read the book and get a grasp of it, but the Sparknotes are there to help you focus on the key elements that are essential.” However, he said allowing TAs to teach is “a slippery slope. TAs shouldn’t replace professors.”
There should be a more structured environment for students in the classroom. In the ideal classroom setting, the primary authority figure should be the professor. TAs should be there in a supportive role rather than actively being responsible for teaching or grading.
“Most TAs are there to help you out. Many of them can seem like complete jerks, but they mean well,” Anoma said. “They are upperclassmen with tons of responsibility — more than most students should have at times. If the problem persists, it doesn’t hurt to confront the professor.”
Opinion columnist Catalina Campos is an English literature senior and may be reached at [email protected]