TA Policy - Teaching Assistant Policy

This Document outlines the TA policy for the Department of Biological Sciences. Departmental TA's should read this document thoroughly before beginning their teaching assignment. The document is organized as follows:

  1. Training, Supervision, and Evaluation of Teaching Assistants in the Department of Biological Sciences
  2. Departmental Policies on Academic Integrity and Affirmative Action
  3. Departmental Guidelines for Teaching Assistants

Training, Supervision, and Evaluation of Teaching Assistants in the Department of Biological Sciences

TA Training Program

The Department of Biological Sciences views teaching as an integral part of graduate education. For this reason, graduate students in the Ph.D. Program are required to teach at least two semesters before obtaining their degree and students in the M.S. Program must teach at least one term. Most first year graduate students (Ph.D. Program) are supported for the first two semesters without a teaching commitment. In general, students in the Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology Program (MCDB) program are then supported by their advisor during the summer, and begin teaching the Fall Term of their second year. Students in the Ecology and Evolution Program (EE) usually begin teaching either at the Pymatuning Field Station or the Oakland Campus during their first Summer Term in the graduate program.

Graduate students participate in an Apprenticeship TA Training Program that operates during the Spring Term (for EE students) and Summer Term (for MCDB students). The apprenticeship program is organized by the TA Coordinator with assistance from GAAC (Graduate Academic Affairs Committee) and the Foundations of Biology Laboratory Coordinator.

Apprenticeship Program

The Department of Biological Sciences training program teams graduate students new to teaching with experienced TAs (or lab instructors) in an apprenticeship program. Most graduate students receive assistantships as instructors in either lab or recitation sections of undergraduate Biological Sciences courses. The goal of the apprenticeship program is to introduce new TAs to the undergraduate teaching environment and for each them to become familiar with how to conduct an undergraduate class.

The TA trainees attend one presentation by the Laboratory Coordinator followed by a laboratory exercise in the Foundations of Biology Lab Course. During the lab course, they observe the TA (or laboratory instructor) presenting the introduction, setting up the lab, and answering student questions. The trainees then present an introduction to one of the subsequent student labs. Prior to their presentation, the trainees attend the weekly TA meeting with the current lab TAs and both coordinators to discuss their presentation (what should be discussed, tips, etc.).

Each graduate student then presents a brief introduction to an audience comprised of the TA Coordinator, the Foundations of Biology Lab Coordinator, the Chair of GAAC as well as members of the committee and fellow graduate student trainees. Evaluation forms are distributed and each presenter is evaluated by every member of the audience. Sample forms are included in Appendix I. At the end of the presentations, the TA Coordinator collects all of the evaluation forms for review. In consultation with the chair of GAAC, the TA coordinator prepares a summary of the evaluations of each presentation and an overall rating is determined and forwarded to the trainee. The TA coordinator reviews the evaluation with each graduate student. The TA mentor receives a letter for their teaching port folio documenting their participation in the TA Training Program.

Teaching in an American Setting

International students admitted to the Department of Biological Sciences are required to attend the workshop Teaching in an American Setting, sponsored by OFD, either before or during their first term of teaching.

Departmental Orientation for Teaching Assistants

The Department of Biological Sciences orientation for teaching assistants will be held at the beginning of the Fall Term. All TAs in the Department of Biological Sciences will be required to attend. The orientation is run by the TA Coordinator, with assistance from GAAC, the Graduate Program Coordinator, Departmental personnel. The agenda includes: an overview of the TA program, teaching strategies, safety issues, an overview of departmental majors, a discussion of ethical issues and balancing teaching with research.

Office of Faculty Development TA Orientation

Prior to the beginning of the Fall Term, the Office of Faculty Development sponsors a New TA Orientation. All graduate students in the Department of Biological Sciences who are teaching for the first time are required to attend.

Supervision

Each faculty member to whom a TA is assigned will be asked to provide at the outset, a description of the duties expected of the TA in the assigned course. This includes office hour policy, lecture attendance, grading participation, special considerations (for example, preparation of materials for laboratory course), and discussion of weekly TA and faculty supervisor meetings. Copies of these duty lists are to be forwarded to the TA Coordinatorís office to be kept on file. Sample forms are enclosed in Appendix I. Near the end of the term, TAs will be asked to fill out a duty list documenting their areas of responsibility and an estimate of the hours per week required for each. Sample forms are enclosed in Appendix I.

Evaluation

Each supervising faculty member will observe the TA(s) conducting a recitation or lab before the middle of the term and will fill out an evaluation form that will be forwarded to the TA Coordinator and the chair of GAAC. The forms are enclosed in Appendix I. If the faculty supervisor rates the TAís overall performance satisfactorily the student will be informed. To monitor a continued successful performance, the TA may be observed by a member of GAAC at a later date in the term. This second evaluation will be unannounced. In cases where the performance is unsatisfactory, the supervising faculty member, and when appropriate the TA Coordinator, will inform the TA of the results and offer suggestions and resources to assist them in improving their teaching. At a later date in the term, to allow sufficient time for the TA to improve, a member of GAAC and the supervising faculty member will observe the TA and evaluate the instruction. This observation will be unannounced. If the TA is evaluated favorably, the TA will be informed of the result of the evaluation and a GAAC member may or may not attend a third class. If the performance is unsatisfactory for the second time, the TA will be informed of the result and given additional suggestions for improvement. In this case, the same member of GAAC will perform the third evaluation.

Teaching Assistants will be advised to form teaching portfolios. The guidelines for preparing a teaching portfolio will be distributed to graduate students prior to the start of their first term of teaching. All evaluation forms and any additional descriptions of their teaching will be inserted into the graduate studentís teaching file. This file will be maintained in the TA Coordinator's office. The evaluations will be used by GAAC to determine whether or not the student has satisfactorily completed the term of teaching.

Furthermore, all teaching assistants must have student evaluations of their teaching performed by Office of Measurement and Evaluation. The quantitative analysis of the evaluations must be forwarded to the TA Coordinator for insertion into the TAís teaching file. GAAC will meet twice a year to discuss the teaching assistants and prepare a summary of each TA's performance during the term. The TA will be informed in writing of the outcome of the evaluation and a copy will be inserted into their departmental file to document a satisfactory or unsatisfactory performance.

Departmental Policies on Academic Integrity and Affirmative Action

Any Teaching Assistant who encounters a situation involving any one of the issues listed below should, when appropriate, first contact the faculty member supervising the course. If the situation can not be resolved at this level, the TA should then address his or her concerns to the TA Coordinator or a member of the Department of Biological Sciences Teaching Ombudscommittee (described below). This committee will provide a mechanism for addressing the issue internally. In each case, the approach will directly follow the policies outlined by the University of Pittsburgh. This committee will also facilitate communication between the department and appropriate University offices in situations where the conflict can not or should not be resolved internally.

Cheating and Plagiarism

Copies of the section on Ethics and the Teaching Assistant in "Teaching at Pitt: A Handbook for Teaching Assistants" prepared by the Office of Faculty Development, University of Pittsburgh will be distributed and reviewed at the TA orientation. Any Teaching Assistant who observes a student violating any one of the student obligations as outlined in the University Policy Statement on Academic Integrity should immediately contact the faculty supervisor. Additional copies of this statement will be kept on file in the TA Coordinators Office and with the Department of Biological Sciences Teaching Ombudscommittee Chairperson.

Racism, Sexism and Sexual Harassment

Copies of brochures prepared by the Office of Affirmative Action will be kept on file in the TA Coordinators Office.

Types of Assignments

In the Department of Biological Sciences, Teaching Assistants are assigned to laboratory sections, recitation sections or as graders/facilitators for large lecture courses. Lecture courses are taught by faculty members and lab courses are taught and/or coordinated by faculty members who in turn supervise the Teaching Assistants. The Department of Biological Sciences does not assign any Teaching Assistants as independent instructors.

Departmental Guidelines for Teaching Assistants

Notification of Assignments

The TA Coordinator consults with students and faculty to finalize teaching assignments one to two terms prior to the appointment. In the Department of Biological Sciences, students in the MCDB program usually teach during the Fall term of their second year and the Spring term of their third year. Students in the EE program usually begin teaching at Pymatuning during the Summer term of their first year and often continue teaching every term. Teaching Assistants receive a letter stating their assignment, the Faculty supervisor, the length of the appointment, general duties and salary.

Conditions and Notification of Re-Appointment

A letter is distributed to faculty members asking graduate student advisors to notify the TA Coordinator if any of their students require teaching support. If, after assigning the students required to teach during a given term, additional assistantships are available and the student has the appropriate background, they will be reappointed and notified in writing according to the conditions described above. Every effort is made to accommodate graduate students in need of support.

Number of Terms of Support

Currently, there is no limit to the number of terms a graduate student may receive a teaching assistantship while actively pursuing a graduate degree. All students in the Ph.D. program are required to teach at least two terms and most MCDB students TA during the Fall Term of their second year and the Spring Term of their third year. Exemptions from this two term re quirement must be approved by GPOC at the time of admission to the graduate program. The department can not guarantee support for students enrolled in a graduate program beyond the tenth year. If the student obtains an extension through the FAS Deanís Office, a teaching assistantship may be awarded, but only under exceptional circumstances.

Faculty Contact in the Event of a Problem

In cases of TA/student or TA/faculty supervisor problems, the TA should attempt, when appropriate, to discuss the issue with the supervising faculty member. If the issue is not resolved or can not be discussed at this level, the TA and/or Instructor may present their concerns to the Department of Biological Sciences Teaching Ombudscommittee. This committee will be comprised of three faculty members (including the TA Coordinator and at least one tenured faculty member), and a senior graduate student who has completed at least two teaching assignments. The size of the committee insures that at least one member will not be directly involved in the course in question. The range of academic standing of the committee provides a mechanism of peer communication where a tenured faculty member may communicate to another tenured faculty member or a TA may speak to a fellow TA. The committee member hearing the complaint may discuss the problem directly with the instructor, bring the issue before the committee, or in cases where the charge requires assistance from outside the department, contact the appropriate University offices (e.g. Affirmative Action if the charge is Sexual Harassment).

Departmental and University Resources to Assist Teaching Concerns

The department will have on file in the TA Coordinator's office, copies of the Departmental Teaching Assistant Policy Statement and both the Teaching at Pitt Handbook and the Teaching Resources Handbook prepared by the Office of Faculty Development. Additional departmental resources will include a list of previous Teaching Assistants for courses offered in the Department of Biological Sciences, summaries of course duty lists, brochures prepared by the Office of Affirmative Action, and the University Guidelines on Academic Integrity.