It seems quite common for other teachers at my university (in Asia) to have students help with what are the normal duties of a teacher. Examples range from asking a student to help carry one of many stacks of books (because the teacher cannot carry all of them) to asking students to carry very small things (which the teacher could easily carry but the teacher would prefer not to carry anything at all and let the student do it) to having students complete marking sheets for graded assignments (where the teacher has already decided what the marks should be but prefers to have a student do the typing and printing).

It's very strange for me because I've never seen it in my own culture (which doesn't mean it doesn't happen), but I'm not Asian so perhaps I'm just not yet adjusted to the local culture.

Do most universities allow a teacher to put some of the teacher's regular duties on the shoulders of some students?

Note: This has nothing to do with teaching assistants, I'm just talking about regular students who appear willing to help (either to learn/understand more, to get in good graces with the teacher, or perhaps for other reasons I cannot see at this time).

[EDIT] I've modified the questions slightly away from ethics towards being common due to concerns from other users feeling it was too much of a discussion / opinion question.


4 Answers 4


Confucius once said (in a rough translation) "It's student's job to serve the teacher when the teacher needs help." (the source in Chinese)

I think in most places, where Confucius's principle is still being followed, helping the teacher in his normal duties is considered normal.

However, help marking the sheets is not normal as far as I understand. At least, Confucius never graded his students. He did have comments about his students, though.


It is highly unusual for students to be asked to take part in teaching duties such as the ones you have ascribed. It would be unusual to ask someone to help with "mundane" or "brute force" tasks—although you could see asking anyone to help out in such circumstances, so I wouldn't think much of being asked to move books or other materials, if the individuals just happened to be standing there at the time.

As for grading and more "official" tasks, I think it would be highly inappropriate to ask a student to prepare the list of grades, or to assist in grading, if the student is actively enrolled in the course. That is because you are then placing those students in a position of authority over their fellow students, and potentially creating a conflict of interest. Note that this does not preclude the use of "graders," as they are not also enrolled in the class at the time.

  • I disagree with the last paragraph; peer grading is quite common and (in my opinion) perfectly appropriate if done carefully. For example, a graduate student at Berkeley, I took several classes where all homework was graded by the students. Every student was expected to grade at least one problem (all submissions) during the semester, and all students were given about the same number of problems to grade. Students could (but rarely did) appeal grades to the instructor. No student had power over any other, because everyone was grading everyone else.
    – JeffE
    Jan 30, 2017 at 3:10

I can only provide anecdotal value from the 3 european universities I attended up to this date and from what I heard from others.

It is not common at all to do this here.

It would however not be a problem to ask for help occasionally either. If a professor did this regularly, especially if it would affect the grading process, problems would arise very soon as students would not be fine with this and intervene by talking to other professors or the director etc etc.

I believe this can only work in cases where the students massively respect or depend on the professor, right? Because if a professor was known to ask students to help them outside of the classroom, most students would probably have better things to do and find an excuse when asked.

  • Have you heard of any school policies against the teacher doing so?
    – earthling
    Jun 16, 2013 at 11:50
  • 2
    Nope, but the tasks you described are often given to teaching assistants which are employed by the university. This implies to me, that the universities don't want the students to do unpaid tasks like that.
    – superuser0
    Jun 16, 2013 at 12:20

You're conflating different kinds of assistance under the title of "students helping their teacher". Let's consider the examples:

  • Carrying a stack of books to be distributed among students: This is merely an extension of each student helping her/himself to a book, just in a more organized way. It's also a one-time activity. It's an activity the teacher is almost certainly not getting paid to do (as opposed to actually teaching, writing exams, grading etc). It's not pedgogical in any way and there's no benefit in a trained/educated teacher doing it. It can be construed as a courtesy among any two people - helping someone carry a heavy physical load; and that's especially true if the teacher is older and not as strong physically and the student is not scrawny and weak :-)

  • Carrying the teacher's stack of books to his room: That is a sort of a personal service rendered to the teacher; it can be construed as a display of loyalty and even fondness, and certainly a recognition of status differences. It is something the teacher is borderline being paid to do (it depends on how you look at it I guess). It something that moves the student a bit into the 'personal space' of the teacher - you get to look at what s/he is reading right now, walk the hallways with him/her and no other people closeby, perhaps glance into his/her office, perhaps even have a chat with her/him. It's a often-repeatable activity.

  • Typing up grades is something the teacher is definitely getting paid for; or rather, either him or the teaching asistants. It's, well, assistance in teaching. It's repeatable - many sheets, many homework assignments or exams. It's a task of responsibility and confidence, as you get to see personal information about other students.

The proprierty and the prevalence of each of these types of activities is a completely different question, I would say.

From my experience, and by the order above: Requested when relevant (but not often); Extremely rarely or never requested; Never requested, and if it is that the students can sue and win easily.

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