Graduate Handbook

Teaching as a Graduate Student

Teaching is an integral part of the Ph.D. program in history. Every student must teach for at least one semester prior to receiving the degree, but the vast majority of our students will teach much more than that, either as part of the terms of a multi-year fellowship or through short-term Teaching Assistantships or both. Teaching is an educational experience for those engaged in it. But it also, of course, carries responsibilities to the students you teach and to the instructors in whose courses you are working. In turn, instructors have certain responsibilities to you.

Although the department strives to match students to courses in their own fields, it is not always possible to do so. Students in smaller fields, in particular, are normally expected to do a certain amount of their teaching in fields that are not their own. But all students should be assigned teaching within their fields for at least one year.

With rare exceptions, graduate student teaching in the Department of History takes one of two forms: a readership or a teaching assistantship. Readers assist instructors in undergraduate lecture courses in grading midterms and final exams, and in evaluating papers (and drafts of papers). A reader is typically responsible for 30 to 50 students a term and should expect to spend no more than an average of ten hours per week on work related to the course, which may include some administrative responsibilities. Readers typically have little or no direct interaction with students. They are expected to attend the lectures in the courses in which they are working. Teaching Assistants conduct weekly discussion sections for students in undergraduate lecture courses and are also responsible for evaluating midterms, final exams, papers, and drafts of papers. A teaching assistant is typically responsible for two discussion sections, which together contain 30 to 35 students. Communication with students may also include regular office hours, e-mail communication, electronic bulletin boards, and other meetings. Teaching assistants should expect to spend no more than an average of 10-15 hours a week on work related to a course, which may include some administrative responsibilities. They are expected to attend the lectures in the courses in which they are working. Students with teaching assignments must register for GR8990 Colloquium/Seminar in Teaching in each semester that they teach. Section numbers are provided by the History Department Graduate Administrator.

Graduate student teaching in the Department of History usually takes one of four forms: a readership, teaching assistantship, Core lectureship, or a teaching scholarship.

  • Readers assist instructors in undergraduate lecture courses in grading midterms and final exams, and in evaluating papers (and drafts of papers). A reader is typically responsible for 30 to 50 students a term and should expect to spend no more than an average of ten hours per week on work related to the course, which may include some administrative responsibilities. Readers typically have little or no direct interaction with students. They are expected to attend the lectures in the courses in which they are working.
  • Teaching Assistants conduct weekly discussion sections for students in undergraduate lecture courses and are also responsible for evaluating midterms, final exams, papers, and drafts of papers. A teaching assistant is typically responsible for two discussion sections, which together contain 30 to 35 students. Communication with students may also include regular office hours, e-mail communication, electronic bulletin boards, and other meetings. Teaching assistants should expect to spend no more than an average of 15 hours a week on work related to a course, which may include some administrative responsibilities. They are expected to attend the lectures in the courses in which they are working. Students with teaching assignments must register for HIST GR8990 Colloquium/Seminar in Teaching in each semester that they teach. Section numbers are provided by the History Department Graduate Administrator.
  • Any student who has received the M.Phil. (the degree awarded after the successful completion of the oral exam) is eligible to apply to teach in the two central courses of Columbia's core curriculum, Contemporary Civilization (CC) and Literature Humanities (LitHum) as a Core Lecturer. If appointed, the student will be able to devise their own syllabus, receive full funding for two years of teaching in the program, including a stipend slightly higher than those awarded to students doing departmental teaching. The student will also receive a summer fellowship (currently $3,000) after teaching in the program for at least a full year. The selection process for CC and LitHum is competitive, but the History Department traditionally receives 2-3 appointments per year.
  • Additionally, students with the M.Phil. may also qualify to devise their own seminar syllabus for consideration in their department's curriculum by teaching in the GSAS Teaching Scholars Program. Teaching Scholars will receive a full Teaching Assistantship for the year in which they teach that will include tuition, facilities fees, stipend, and health insurance. Additionally, students selected will be awarded $1,000 for the summer before the year in which they are scheduled to teach their proposed course to support their efforts to develop and prepare the course and its attendant materials. No student will be designated as a Teaching Scholar more than twice in his or her graduate career.

Training: The department and GSAS Teaching Center provide training for graduate student teachers through an intensive one-day workshop early in the fall and follow-up workshops during the term. In these sessions, students receive advice on how to lead discussion sections, how to manage technology, how to handle grading and commenting on students' work, how to advise students writing papers, and other issues likely to confront teachers. Workshops for more advanced students also address issues that will confront Ph.D.s once they begin teaching on their own: creating syllabi, drawing up reading lists, preparing lectures, etc.

Privileges: Readers and Teaching Assistants are entitled to a number of privileges. They may check out books for extended periods and are exempt from fines for overdue items (except for Barnard course reserves, materials from Health Sciences libraries, and books that are not returned when recalled). They are also entitled to additional memory on the CUNIX system (your email account) and free printing of 100 pages a week from network printers. And they are entitled to 500 pages of photocopying of course-related materials through the History Department copiers (Students teaching for instructors at Barnard or in departments other than History must make copying arrangements through the home department of the course.) Students also can expect free desk copies of the books assigned in the courses they teach. Professors are responsible for ordering desk copies for their Teaching Assistants from publishers.

Electronic Resources: The History Department has one slide projector, one overhead projector, two digital projectors, and one TV/VCR that both faculty and Teaching Assistants teaching sections can use. These items must be reserved in advance with the department's Communciations Coordinator. Only sections meeting in Fayerweather Hall can use the department's electronic resources. If a section meets outside of Fayerweather Hall, Teaching Assistants should contact the Academic Department Administrator for assistance with the University Audio/Visual office.

Selection of Teaching Assistants: Every spring the Graduate Administrator will send to all graduate students with teaching obligations in the following academic year a list of courses that will require teaching assistants and request three choices of teaching assignments. Once responses are compiled, professors who will be teaching courses with teaching assistants will be asked to indicate their preferences among those who have asked to TA for them. Students are thus advised to speak to professors with whom they would like to work before requests are due. Area chairs and representatives of departments or programs using history teaching assistants will then communicate the preliminary assignments to all faculty in their field and, if necessary, adjust assignments. In assigning TAs, the department will consider seniority, field, experience, and past assignments; no student will be required to work with the same professor more than twice, but may choose to do so. Projected enrollments determine the number of TAs assigned to each class. Not all students may receive their first choice assignment.

Final assignments are made by the area chairs and the Director of Graduate Studies. After assignments are made, only the Director of Graduate Studies can make a change. Shifts in assignments due to enrollment numbers will be handled in as fair a manner as possible, and in consultation with affected faculty members. Students must confirm with the Graduate Administrator any change in assignment.

Fourth-year students may apply to defer the last year of TAing to the fifth year in order to pursue dissertation research during the fourth year. Such students should send a letter making the request to the Director of Graduate Studies by April 1 of their third year. The student should ask the dissertation sponsor to write a supporting letter. Such requests will be forwarded to GSAS and granted, depending on the necessity of being away from Columbia for a prolonged period during the fourth year and the teaching needs of the department.

It is the responsibility of faculty members to determine, in consultation with their teaching assistants, the days and times for discussion sections. Each faculty member or one designated teaching assistant (only one person per course) should provide a list of requested days and times to Lenore Hubner (telephone 854-3240), who allocates room assignments. This should generally be done at least a month before the beginning of the semester. If the lecture course is likely to enroll large numbers of first-year students (who enroll at the end of August), the faculty member might reserve more times and rooms than the pre-registration numbers would initially indicate. The availability of funding outside of the History Department for students beyond the fifth year (such as teaching assistantships in American Studies, SIPA, CC, IRWAG, etc.) should be made known to all eligible students, along with procedures for selection, to the extent that they are known by the History Department. After first checking with the History Department about teaching possibilities within the department, students should contact these programs and centers independently.

Getting Ready to Teach: Getting ready for a semester of teaching is a joint responsibility of the TA and the instructor. Well before the semester begins, the instructor should order desk copies of assigned books for TAs, distribute to all TAs a copy of the syllabus, and select section times - ideally early enough for undergraduates to enroll in sections at the time of registration. Professors and TAs should meet before the start of the semester to review the goals of the course, the nature of the assignments, and the role of sections in the course. Teaching Assistants should have a sense of what the instructor expects of students enrolled in the course. Sections should begin no later than the second week of class. The assignment of students to sections should be completed by the second class. The instructor and the TAs ordinarily share in the task of organizing the sections. Professors and their teaching assistants should meet weekly to discuss content, pedagogy, grading, and any problems that arise in the course. Professors should meet with readers before every grading assignment (exam or paper) to discuss content and expectations. Faculty should provide guidelines to TAs for grading.

Evaluations: As graduate students are both teachers and students, evaluation must address both issues. Undergraduates should complete teaching assistant evaluations-provided on a separate departmental form (an online system is under development)-as part of course evaluations; those evaluations will be made available to TAs after grades for the course are in. Instructors may also ask their TAs to complete course evaluations that assess both the pedagogical success of the course and the use of TAs in it. At semester's end, instructors should provide some feedback to TAs about their work in the course, either in a meeting or in writing. The department keeps files of undergraduate evaluations. Graduate students may make photocopies of their evaluations to use as part of a teaching portfolio for the job market, or for applications for other Columbia teaching positions (e.g., CC, LitHum, etc.).

Dealing with Problems: Students who are experiencing problems with their teaching that they cannot discuss with the instructor should contact the department's Director of Graduate Studies and/or a member of the Graduate Teaching Committee. Continuing grievances should be resolved first by bringing them to the Director of Graduate Studies or the Department Chair. If they cannot be resolved at this level they may be brought to the Assistant Dean for Graduate Teaching in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

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