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I'm currently pursuing a Master's/PhD integrated program at a university in Korea. It's my first semester, and I along with two other first-semester students are TA'ing for our advisor's undergraduate class.

Our professor is very busy for various reasons. Conferences, events, seminars, etc., and due to this schedule he won't be able to teach three classes in November. He called us into his office and said that "How would you guys like to each teach one of those classes? It's an undergraduate course and so it shouldn't be too hard, plus it'll be great experience."

My response was (almost word for word) "Professor, I'm really flattered that you think so highly of us, but I'm not sure if it would be appropriate for us to teach a class. We're graduate students, but we're still in our first semester. Wouldn't it be better and safer for your reputation if you asked one of the PhD students or research professors, or if you scheduled a separate make-up class instead? I'm mentioning your reputation because many students probably believe that it's inappropriate for relatively inexperienced and less knowledgeable students like us to teach them when they're paying tuition to be taught by experts in the field."

In the end he said he appreciates my feedback but that he'd probably find it difficult to schedule a make-up class, and that "the PhD students and research professors are too busy," also adding that "I want to do you guys a favor by giving this opportunity and experience to you."

Preparing and teaching a class isn't the problem, but I'm just wondering is this normal? I've heard of PhD-level students teaching classes in these situations, but freshmen like us? I'm honestly very concerned.

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    Do you even have to prepare the class though? Or would the prof provide you with their notes/slides and you simply put them on the board, along with a few words of explanation? – Dirk Oct 17 '19 at 10:38
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    For comparison, at my university in the US, masters and PhD students teach entire courses on their own from their very first semester, supervised by professors who meet with them once or twice a week and sit in on their classes occasionally. – Nate Eldredge Oct 17 '19 at 12:59
  • @Dirk We have to prepare the material entirely on our own. He's given us a few points (e.g. you can use these kinds of material) but other than that everything from start to finish is our responsibility. – Seankala Oct 17 '19 at 14:25
  • @NateEldredge Ah I see, that puts some perspective into my question. I had personally never heard of this kind of case before, as the courses that I've seen that are taught not by professors themselves are taught by relatively "higher up" people like PhD's. I wasn't aware that master's students were also given this responsibility. – Seankala Oct 17 '19 at 14:26
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Whether this is normal, uncommon, or outrageous will differ a lot from university to university. Where I did my PhD (in Austria), this would be standard operating procedure. Where I teach now (in Sweden), it would be uncommon but not really a huge deal as long as the teaching quality remained reasonable*. I am sure there are other universities where this would be unheard-of.

Preparing and teaching a class isn't the problem, but I'm just wondering is this normal? I've heard of PhD-level students teaching classes in these situations, but freshmen like us? I'm honestly very concerned.

It would help to answer your question if you said what exactly you are concerned about? It sounds like you feel you can prepare the class well (and it also sounds like you don't mind doing so too much), in that case this sounds more like an administrative matter that should not concern you too much - ultimately, it's your professor's problem if your Dean of Studies (or whatever the comparable role in your university is) is unhappy with how exactly your professor decided to organize the teaching in your course.


*There would likely be some questions if the professor in fact delegated three classes in a row, but not because he delegated it to young grad students, more because designated teachers are in fact expected to do all, or at least the vast majority, of their teaching themselves, not just find somebody to do the teaching for them.

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  • Thanks for the answer. You're correct in that it probably does differ from country to country. I suppose that my main concern is mainly "Will I be able to do a good job or not." Preparing for the course is (at least logically) not that hard. I just have to think that I'm giving a presentation at a seminar or study group or whatever. I suppose it's more a personal problem because I'm concerned with how the students will judge myself and my advisor. – Seankala Oct 17 '19 at 9:32
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    @Seankala If you think you can't do a good job, ask for help - don't ask for not having to do it. Although the "I'm doing you a favour" angle is fairly transparent BS, there is a grain of truth to it - being exposed to / forced to do teaching early on in my academic career has helped my in multiple ways in the future. – xLeitix Oct 17 '19 at 9:35

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