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WildeThing
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So in my program pretty much everyone is a TA, only we don’t assist, we teach an entire class (some people more than one per semester). It just recently came to my attention that this might not be normal. Can anyone confirm that? How many TA positions involve being the primary instructor or at what stage do TAs shift from assisting to teaching (not that assisting isn’t teaching)?

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This is really discipline specific. At most institutions, you can't teach a course as instructor of record without having a master's in hand. That said, even then there are exceptions and differences. My experience is that folks in the humanities (particularly English and modern language programs) tend to teach a class of their own starting early on. In my own grad program (social sciences), you needed a MA in order to teach a full 3-credit course by yourself. But MA students commonly taught labs (1 credit courses for which they were instructor of record) or led discussion sections. 

AKA, it's a difficult thing to generalize across institutions in the US.

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Being the primary instructor was fairly common for students in humanities departments where I did my Masters degree. It was a Canadian school though. At this school, these instructors were considered "Teaching Fellows" (TFs) rather than TAs. TAs were paid on an hourly basis ($40/hr, 10 hrs/week for a 12 week semester). TFs were paid a fixed amount (around $8000 per semester) with a 10% bonus if enrollment was greater than 125 students. So, they were treated more like salaried employees. The TFs I talked to spent way more hours on their courses than a TA, so in the end they still got paid less per hour because the University says they "should" only need X hours but that X is very underestimated.

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In English, which, based on your post history is your discipline, it is very very normal.  This is, of course, because freshman comp is required to some extent at most institutions and English departments require lots of bodies to teach all of those students.  There are some programs that turn new graduate students loose teaching their first semester, regardless of their experience.  That sounds pretty jarring, but I suppose that in my first year I didn't teach but I don't know that I gained anything especially relevant to teaching comp, other than another year of academic writing experience and more confidence than I would have had otherwise (owed more to a sense of 'belonging' in the program and department, more than anything else).

In my program I was called a TA my first two years of teaching, and in my third year of teaching, my designation mysteriously changed to TF, which I think came with a very (very) modest pay bump.  Unlike the above poster's experience, the method of payment remained the same, a flat sum, once a month.

The shifts will depend on your program of course.  My program, I taught two sections of freshman comp my second year, TA'd and taught recitation for a large lecture my third year, and taught a mix of comp and "Intro to..." my fourth year.  This was mixed with some opportunities to teach upper division summer classes as well.  I may not teach again due to fellowships, but all told I've taught eight classes and I was the instructor of record in seven of them.  I'm pretty sure that for larger, especially public institutions, this isn't unusual, especially in English.  However, I've heard that at "name brand" private-school English departments solo-teaching, and teaching generally, is less common.

If it feels odd to call someone who teaches their own class a "Teaching Assistant", think about "Assistant Professors" in your department, they probably don't "assist" anyone so much as write their own books and teach their own classes.  It's standard terminology but does not work well for all disciplines!

Edited by jrockford27
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49 minutes ago, jrockford27 said:

In my program I was called a TA my first two years of teaching, and in my third year of teaching, my designation mysteriously changed to TF, which I think came with a very (very) modest pay bump.  Unlike the above poster's experience, the method of payment remained the same, a flat sum, once a month.

Just to be clear, both TAs and TFs at the school in question were paid a flat sum once per month. TAs had a contract for X hours per semester and they divide it up by the number of months in the semester to make equal payments. TFs had a contract to teach the course and the pay was also divided up by the number of months to make equal payments.

But, while TAs had some recourse if they were being assigned too much work (i.e. if getting close to X hours limit, they would discuss with dept to either stop working or get paid extra hours), TFs didn't since they were paid to teach the course, no matter how many hours. The pay was almost double though, but most TFs tell me it was 3 to 4 times the work.

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19 hours ago, WildeThing said:

So in my program pretty much everyone is a TA, only we don’t assist, we teach an entire class (some people more than one per semester). It just recently came to my attention that this might not be normal. Can anyone confirm that? How many TA positions involve being the primary instructor or at what stage do TAs shift from assisting to teaching (not that assisting isn’t teaching)?

If you are feeling overwhelmed with your current workload, at the earliest opportunity, go either to your boss or the DGS and ask about resources that will help you find a sustainable balance between your job and your coursework.

If you are feeling exploited by your current workload, have a conversation with your boss or the DGS about your responsibilities as an instructor colliding with your responsibilities as a student.

In both conversations, avoid tipping your hand that you're participating in bull sessions and listening to gossip. Instead, present yourself as a professional academic who wants additional training and/or to have a professional dialog about your work.

In both conversations, manage your expectations beforehand.The bottom line is that many of the professors in your department will have stories about teaching "the last hard class" and doing more with less when they were in your position.

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  • 4 months later...
On 11/2/2017 at 8:19 PM, WildeThing said:

So in my program pretty much everyone is a TA, only we don’t assist, we teach an entire class (some people more than one per semester). It just recently came to my attention that this might not be normal. Can anyone confirm that? How many TA positions involve being the primary instructor or at what stage do TAs shift from assisting to teaching (not that assisting isn’t teaching)?

Are you talking about recitation classes where it's a supplement to the larger introduction course?

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