©Marva A. Barnett

Why Train Teaching Assistants?
by Marva A. Barnett
Teaching Resource Center & Department of French, University of Virginia (written 1993)

Most good teachers are not born but develop, and this development should continue throughout their careers.

The point of any program for training teaching assistants is not the staffing of required language courses but rather the training of future professionals to be well-rounded scholars by learning to balance teaching, research, and service/administration. Therefore, learning to teach and practice teaching are necessary preparation for the academic career most graduate students in many academic disciplines plan to pursue; time spent on these activities is time well spent.

Effective development activities include the following:

  • The pre-service Orientation Workshop not only gives students information and materials to begin teaching, but also orients them to U.Va. and helps them establish an esprit de corps. Without a thorough orientation, they begin this typically new phase of their lives with increased anxiety and confusion.
  • Peer observation and videotaping for self-analysis help teaching assistants develop the analytical skills they will need as faculty members to improve independently of a supervisor.
  • Supervision of TA teaching must leave room for the intelligent independence and creativity that graduate students bring to their endeavors, or they will be frustrated as TAs and ill-prepared to take on the freedom of being a faculty member. Skilled observation and discussion can save inexperienced teachers a great deal of time and frustration.
  • Graduate students who see or participate in ongoing research in all aspects of their discipline will be more comfortable with their own research and better learn to integrate teaching and research.

The team-taught course FREN 701 (1988-93) aimed to:

  • expand the training of graduate students to teach elementary- and intermediate-level French
  • train graduate students in the correct form and style for research papers and publications
  • interweave theories and practices of language teaching and literary research
  • establish for beginning graduate students professional standards, e.g., responsibility and ethical behavior