The Michigan Daily - Friday, December 11, 1992-- Page 5
The U-M shadow faculty has vast influence over the
undergraduate population, but why do many graduate
students become TAs, and are they qualified to teach?
The distant ring of the Burton Tower signals
the start of class, yet 10 minutes away. The
tearly eyed students shuffle into class as the
)risk morning wind offers the only topic of
discussion. Young scholars fill the room - but
wait - where is the instructor?
A tardy student enters the room butratherthan
taking her seat among her comrades, she confi-
dJently strides towards the board. Picking up the
Chalk, her name is etched with a screech, from
dust into words. She is the TA.
Teaching assistants can have a prominent
'nfluence on one's undergraduate education, yet
omeffundamentalquestions often gounanswered.
Where do TAs come from and why do they
put themselves through the rigors of both at-
tending and instructing classes? For most mortal
Sbeings just doing one demands most of every
waking moment, so what possesses these gradu-
ate students to take on greater challenges?
Why Be A
"The first thing is that nobody can afford to go
t-M grad school without (financial) assistance,"
said Bill Shea, office manager for the Graduate
Employees Organization (GEO).
GEO president David Toland said, "We do
not make enough money to meet the living re-
quirement for Ann Arbor."
TAs throughout campus cite the high costs of
obtaining a graduate degree as a primary motive
behind their desire to teach.
"There are a few who are in it for purely
financial reasons, but I think that it is fairly few,"
Toland said. "For a lot of us teaching is very
"I think it's adual purpose," said LindaEggert,
administrative assistant to the director of the
American Culture program. "Most of our stu-
dents need some sort of support and this is a
primary source for them."
However, Eggert and other U-M personnel
are quick to point out that many TAs also want to
teach for the sake of teaching.
"I really wanted to teach ... I like it and I do
aed the money,"said Marsha Ackermann, aTA
in the American Culture department. "I think
TAs can perform an important service."
"Basically being a TA is a way that theuniver-
sity and graduate students can both benefit,"
Ackermann said. "It's an awkward arrangement
that allows the university to solicit their services
in exchange for a education."
Other faculty and staff members cite different
reasons why many graduate students don't relish
- by Andrew Taylor -
Chemistry TA Andrew Yen helps first-year student Peter Oskanian with his assignment.
educator, they value their teaching assistant posi-
However, many TAs explain that the high
costs of obtaining a U-M graduate education
pushes them toward becoming a teaching assis-
"It is basically a financial decision," Ack-
To Be A "Good" TA
Simply becoming a TA does not guarantee
becoming a "good" TA. What safeguards are in
a high quality
force of gradu-
ate students to
teach the help
teach the under-
the material, it is
cate the mate-
rial," Senior said.
is that the ability
to teach will fol-
low if you are
about the subject
is more training
TAs should be
that time," he
most TAs agree
that they are
given little for-
said they felt it is a significant flaw in the system.
"There is no centralized office. That is a
ing about," Shea said.
U-M Vice President for Student Affairs
Maureen Hartford said, "I don't think there's an
easy way of telling who will be a wondrous TA
and who won't."
She said she felt the logic behind letting the
individual departments select their own TAs is
that the faculty in the department would have a
better knowledge of the students and their quali-
fications than any main office.
"Generally since that's the same way we
select faculty, I think there's a parallel there,"
TAs Or Profs.
TAs throughout the university often comment
that one disadvantage of the position is the lack of
recognition. They said they occasionally hear
comments that they are not good teachers and
would be better
served if they
were taught by
professors. Teaching assistants
It's kind of discussion secitons
ironic that if classes. Requireme
you're a profes- but all TAs have a
sor people think b
that all of a sud-
den you have Of the 1688 TAs
some magical the U-M campu
qualities to 22.2% identify
teach," Sheasaid. themselves as a
He added that member of a
he feels TAs are minority group.
cause the pro-
fessors often do More than 300 of t
not have time to nonresident aliens
give their classes of TAs that are not
their full atten-
a place like U-M4
where it is a re- 8 of 49
search institu- 16.3%
tion," Shea said. -m
Toland said, As2an-Americ
"For mostprofes- 72680
sors, research is
their primary fo-
cus, and that's too
"TAs are often going to have the same problems
professors have. We are here for our education
and (the U-M) doesn't give you a degree for how
well you teach a class."
"I think that most TAs do a fine job teaching.
just because someone's a professor doesn't mean
thc'roA htte toarhr t-ano TA " Tn,..-nnA cir
"Not everybody is good at teaching. God
knows I hope I'm getting better, but that does not
mean that I'm notacapable TA now," Ackermann
The Joy Of Teaching
"To teach undergrads is a tough job because
they don't know anything and you have to start
from scratch," Shea said.
"I've been in classes where the students are
dead, and they're jerks," he added.
He added that he would like to see the uni-
versity develop a "mentorship program" for TAs
so they would have a better idea what techniques
to try in those situations.
Shea said such a program is being developed
in the Department ofEnglish, but while "it's good
in concept," it has yet to be implemented.
Religious studies TA Jan Jackson said, "If
you expect students to be active in yourclass, you
have to get them involved on the first day."
Ackermann added, "Every class is different,
s at the U-M are responsible for most
and labs in most undergraduate
nts for TAs vary among departments,
bachelor degree and attend Rackham.
on Cusa2.% Hispanic
S' ~~77.8/ E«'
he TAs are permanent resident aliens or
with visa status. Here is the percentage
American citizens by ethnic group.
Former Michigan football
coach Bo Schembechler is going
to coach Ohio State next season.
Don't believe it? Well, good,
because it's not true. However,
about a year and a half ago, I co-
wrote a story that asserted exactly
that, and students all over campus
that the Matthew
be a joke, and I never thought
anyone would believe it. Why
would I do such a thing?
The date of the paper was
April 1, 1991. April Fools' Day.
I'm still shocked by how that
story duped so many people. Were
it true, the story would have been
big news, yet no other news
source carried a similar story.
Many of the fabricated quotes in
the story were intentionally made
ridiculous to give the joke away.
But still people believed it.
The whole episode taught me
something about newspapers and
what an awesome responsibility
they have. Once words appear in
print, they become valid. What
was once a preposterous joke
suddenly becomes gospel. How
many times in conversations with
our friends, have we questioned
something they said, only to hear
that famous response that is
supposed to explain everything -
"I think I read it somewhere."
Every day, you can open a
newspaper and find some incredu-
lous story. Depending on the
newspaper you're reading, you
may be able to find stories that
aren't even true.
Yet as soon as something
appears in print, people begin to
believe it. This leaves newspapers.
with the frightening ability to
control what people believe.
Now. I am a journalist. I have
worked with journalists. I don't
know if we are the type of people
who deserve this kind of power.
However, people need to be
informed, and newspapers play a
valuable role in everyone's life.
Therefore, we all must take a role
in creating an atmosphere of trust
between newspapers and their
Journalism is a service
industry. It is based on giving the
readers what they want. Part of
what drives reporters and editors
to sensationalize stories is their
customers' desire to read sensa-
Everybody has a curiosity for
the absurd, but continuing to
patronize this type of tabloid
journalism only perpetuates its
existence. Slowly, the line
between fact and fiction becomes
progressively more difficult to
draw. And then you never know
what to believe.
So keep picking up your
newspaper every day. But don't
believe everything you read.
With that said, though, some
things do warrant enough empha-
sis to be stated in print. This is the
last time I will be writing in this
space, and I want to thank all the
people who have made the last
year very memorable.
To my parents, who never
really taught me much about
writing, but taught me virtually
To everyone who has worked
at this paper over the last four
years, especially Andy, Josh,
Steve, Jeff and Melissa. The Daily
has taught me a lot about writing,
but you have taught me even more
To all my friends from home,
especially Joe and Ken, for always
asking how the newspaper was
going even if you didn't care.
And finally, to the boys of
1008 - Ames, Marquette, C,
'nc a~nd ri (hhc fthP hnnnrnr
Teaching Assistant Marsha Ackermann leads the discussion in
American Culture 201 yesterday.
the idea of becoming a TA.
"It can hold back their graduate education,"
said Thomas Senior, associate chair for academic
affairs in the Department of Electrical Engineer-
ing and Computer Science, as he explained that
the increased work load of becoming a teaching
assistant discourages many students from taking
on the position.
"Graduate education is very expensive. We
offer fellowships, research assistant positions
and teaching assistant positions to qualified stu-
dents," Senior said.
Many TAs - reasoning that research assis-
tant positions and fellowships are generally less
. Wgrk and more enjoyable than being a teaching
assistant --said they would often prefer one of
#.n~ - mA
mal training to
- except when they talk to the professor about
the specific goals of the class.
"Some people are better teachers than others,
there's no question about that," Senior said.
He explained that is why student evaluations
of the TAs are important, as the results of the
survey are a primary source of criteria that TA
performance is based upon.
Senior added that all new TAs take two days
of training at the beginning of each term in
"simulated situations" to better prepare them for
"You can criticize - that I wouldn't deny,"
Senior said, adding that he believes the system
The individual departments are given the au-
127 of 1186
20 of 46
JONATHAN BERNDT/Daily Graphic
different classes have different personalities,"
and she the same thing won't work for every
History TA David Hsiung said "I hope I can
become a very human part of an often anony-
mous, bureaucratic, and impersonal university."
FvrF.,,nhj.Y by nmanenn.= nfi4 a0 npii o th