Those of you at universities where calculus is taught in small sections with graduate student instructors; what sort of structure do you have for supervising/mentoring the graduate students and overseeing the administration of the course?

E.g., does this duty rotate among tenure-track faculty, do you have a dedicated instructor who does this on a long-term basis, or do you have some other structure?


I'm not in math, but I have supervised several times multiple sections of a first-year software design course taught primarily by grad students (usually I also am teaching one of the sections).

  • Weekly meetings are helpful, at least an hour, especially for first-time TAs
  • Collaborating on course content (presentations, exercises, quizzes, homework, exams) via the cloud (e.g., Google apps) is great
  • My policy is to share all my content with new TAs when they come on board, with the agreement that they'll improve and re-share it back.
  • I try to get extra $ for "tutoring" hours for them, outside the course, so as to make the work less painful. Anything that boosts morale and shows you're on their side is great.
  • I try to nurture leadership within the group, as turnover is high.
  • I used to pay (out of my pocket) an end-of-semester team-building social outing (I felt it was worth it, to have motivated TAs). However, when the department chair found out I was doing it, he started covering the cost from then on, if I invited him, too (this has become a normal thing, since it's essential to get and keep for a while the motivated TAs).
  • If you can approach it as a management problem and apply some management techniques (don't take on their monkeys), it's feasible. Also, I scooped a few good research students (and was able to spot some I wouldn't work well with) thanks to the experience.
  • My department doesn't rotate this kind of responsibility, since courses are generally "owned" by only one or two professors. We are unionized, and have considered having this kind of supervision recognized formally in terms of teaching load (which it still is not). It comes up every time our collective agreement is re-negotiated, but the % of faculty it affects is small. The P&T committees take it into consideration, however.
  • In my department, there was an administrator who coordinated the TA's. Sad to say, he provided none of the things Fuhrmanator described. However, he did step in and take over a class if a TA was out on medical leave. – aparente001 Jan 31 '17 at 0:30
  • I'm disappointed that you do not offer any training to your TAs on how to teach effectively. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 31 '17 at 0:49
  • @AnonymousPhysicist the weekly meetings are precisely that (specialized coaching). Also, my department has a standardized set of procedures (how to prep a syllabus, decide letter grades, etc.) that it shares with all TAs each new semester, and the school has a teaching support group that does seminars (to any instructors including TAs). – Fuhrmanator Jan 31 '17 at 1:42

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