Types of TAs
1. Discussion Leaders - These TAs are in charge of the discussion sections for the class.
2. Readers - These TAs are the ones who grade your papers. Occasionally, the grading is split amongst the other TA types and the lecturer/professor (this is especially true for midterms and finals), but Readers get the brunt of the work. Their job can be tedious and frustrating, but it's also welcome since they can do this on their own schedule. (Note that not all readers are TAs, as there are even undergrad readers).
3. Lab Leaders - These TAs lead the laboratory sections of the course, as well as grade the lab reports.
4. Advanced TAs or Associate Instructors - TAs that actually teach lectures.
Generally, there is one person for each TA job. But some TAs, for some insane reason, are teaching in the lecture, leading a discussion, leading a lab, and grading for two different classes at the same time. One wonders where they find the time and if they're doing any real research on top of it all. (see: Summer in Davis)
Each TA has a close relationship with the professor/lecturer in charge of the course, although Lab TAs occasionally work with whomever is in charge of the lab experiments for that department. TAs are paid for by the department which hires them. Often times a graduate student from one department will be a TA for another department.
TAs are generally graduate students, but advanced undergraduates are sometimes employed. Advanced TAs teach their own classes. For instance, most English 1 and English 3 courses at UCD are taught by graduate student instructors.
TAs receive a monthly stipend and usually have their tuition waived.
There is a misconception that UC Davis hires non-English speaking TAs to teach classes. Considering that a requirement for graduate studies is passing the TOEFL exam, this isn't true. What is true is that there are plenty of TAs who speak with thick accents or have a poor understanding of English. If you cannot understand your TA, try changing discussion sections/labs/sections. Otherwise, just deal with it.
TAs on the Wiki
This wiki says that "advanced undergraduates are sometimes employed" as t.a.'s. I'm not going to go to graduate school here unfortunately, but I wanted to be a t.a. in Davis because i'm very close to some of my professors here. Specifically I would like to t.a. for a computer science course, maybe ECS 30 or 40. Does anyone have experience being a t.a. as an undergraduate, and if so how did you get the position? Any help would be greatly appreciated!
UC Davis seems to have a nasty habit of hiring non-English speaking TAs to teach classes. Whether this is due to budget contstraints, lack of English-speaking graduate students, or poor hiring practices is unknown. Some students strongly believe that if TAs are hired to teach a class to a group of English speaking students, they should at least be able to speak the language. — ArlenAbraham
This has more to do with the fact that being a TA is one of a handful of ways to actually get fee remission. You have to be a TA for two of every three quarters to qualify to have your fees paid for by the university. So it's used like a scholarship as a way of luring graduate students who seem to show promise in doing brilliant research— instead of giving them a scholarship, they make them work for the university usually as researchers or TAs. And the fact that some grad students are not ideally situated to be TAs perhaps reflects the university's occasional over-emphasis on research at the expense of its teaching mission.
However, be mindful that most TAs from other nations, despite pronounced accents, have a thorough mastery of the English language. (However, I will admit that I have known a few who have poor command of spoken English.) -jr
A number of foreign TAs speak excellent english, but they still get a lot of grief. The problem that a lot of undergrads seem to have is not how well the TA speaks english, but rather their accent. A lot of Indian TAs especially get grief for this, despite the fact that their english is often better (grammar and structure wise at least) than many American born TAs. Personally, it seems like undergrads should turn off their bigotry, and learn to deal. When people get into the workforce, they'll often find that their co-workers aren't all second or later generation Americans, and they will often have to learn to listen through an accent. -EricKlein
I agree on the accent thing. Lots of people have accents, get over it. However, as an undergraduate, I have found that more often the problem is with the basic structure of written and spoken English. I've had classes where I had to sit and translate whatever the TA was saying. I had a TA who once asked the class "I wonder my lecture reasonable understanding," which is easy enough to translate, but when they start rattling off complicated, upper-division concepts, it leaves the student wishing that the TA would learn basics such as subject/verb agreement, the verb "to be" and correct pluralization. An accent is one thing, reasonable understanding is another. Remember that as undergraduates, we're paying TAs to teach us, in the workforce our coworkers don't owe us anything. - ArlenAbraham
Agreed. Undergraduates have right to expect understandable teachers (as stated above, this excludes mere accent problems). As eluded to earlier, this is really just a symptom of the fact that undergraduates are really second class students in the UC system (I know at least UCSB has this problem as well, and have heard from others with firsthand experience that many of the other UCs suffer from this). The UCs focus so intensely on research that undergraduate teaching is really quite neglected. In fact, I propose a Wiki page UC Undergrad Neglect about this. Too many professors (to say nothing of TAs) are far better researchers than teachers, and their students suffer accordingly. -EricKlein
Just keep in mind - for every TA you have with an accent, the TA reads 20 papers from students who don't understand subject/verb agreement, conjugation, punctuation, or even spellcheck. - EllenWoodall
Girl, you just spoke my mind. What is up with these undergrads? Shocking, just shocking.
Ok...interesting... It seems that you all don't clearly understand the problem. Being an undergrad myself, I understand it perfectly. heh. So, I have only had a couple TA's whom I cannot understand. I usually have no problem with people not being able to pronounce English correctly (notice I am not commenting on their "mastery" of the English language). Besides, if someone knows English better than I do, yet still no communicate with me, what is that worth? Anyway, I must get to bed, but the point is that I am essentially paying this person to teach me stuff and if I can't understand what they are saying because English is their second language and they talk into the chalkboard very softly then I am surely not getting my money's worth. If this person cannot teach effectively, regardless of their knowledge of the subject or English, they clearly should not be put in this position. It doesn't do anyone any favors, especially the undergrad. Now, you TA's can bitch all you want about how shitty you aren't, but I am still paying for you to get through grad school and I would REALLY REALLY appreciate it if I could understand what the fuck you are saying. I dare you to respond to that. -GeorgeLewis
"Besides, if someone knows English better than I do, yet still no communicate with me, what is that worth?" Heh. That was almost ironic. Well, I think there are occasional TAs whose command of english is far too deficient to effectively teach, but such TAs are a micro-minority. They really should be brought to someone's attention if they are failing in their mission to teach. I would recommend starting by just mentioning something to the TA— oftentimes people don't realize they're not being understood or heard, but it's important to be good-natured about it. However, as you realize, it's important to be careful in your critique: there are many ignorant students who are eager to pick on excellent communicators solely because of their pronounced accents. -jr
Yeah, clearly (or not so clearly) that was in jest. Good points, good points.
Being an undergrad doesn't make you more or less suited to speak on this matter, but ignoring that; it is as much your fault, George, as it is the TA's on faulty communication. If the TA truely knows the English grammar, then it is partly your fault for not being familiar with their accent. Obviously you haven't been around German/Indian/Chinese/Australian/British accents long enough. I've had TAs and teachers who have had accents "thick" in the sense that they were not American accents. However, since it is a problem for you, I suggest you go to the professor to get the material if you cannot understand the TA, or vice versa. If you cannot understand either, go to the LSC. Go to your friends. Find someone who does understand the teacher/TA. Deal with it. It isn't all their fault. If you were more educated, you would know what the accent sounds like, and be able to understand the TA. —TusharRawat
- I'm not disputing the fact that many TAs are international students and have accents that are, at times, hard to understand, but I would be more sympathetic if undergrad students really put the time and effort into getting the most out of their TAs. If you don't understand what's going on in discussion section, ask your TA to enunciate more clearly or to explain the concept again. Go to office hours - we have two hours a week during which we sit in our offices waiting for students to visit with questions. Failing all that, go to see the professor - s/he is required to hold office hours, and you're paying your professor's salary as well.
That's not the point that I'm hearing. It's not "I don't understand the material cause the TA can't convey it." The point is, that it can often be difficult and frustrating. I know that it's not the TA's fault, but it really doesn't help if they have a strong accent. I feel embarrassed for both the students who can understand, and the poor TA, when he or she is asked to repeat a word numerous times by some of the people in the class. To the point the TA might just write it on the board. And with all the fun vocab in science classes, a thick accent really makes it a lot harder. Oftentimes after the 3rd or 4th time in my bio lab for example, the people who caught it end up shouting it out to save the TA time. It may not be fair, and it's not the TA's fault obviously, but that doesn't help the matter that they can be difficult to near impossible to understand, which stresses both the students struggling with the accent, and the poor TA trying his or her best. But accent does play a role in the educational quality as well. If both ta's had the exact same level of english 'mastery', same subject of the knowledge, the TA without the fatty accent will most likely be able to convey the information better, simply because the accent is an additional obstacle. You would prefer the one that is easier to understand. I don't see how this is related to "getting the most" to get sympathy. If I understand the topic, by doing the reading, paying attention, taking notes, why the hell does it matter if I don't go to office hours? The problem isn't not understanding the topic, it's often not being able to understand what the heck is coming out of the TA's mouth. "Can you repeat that?" or "Can you please write on the board?" heard over and over does waste class time, our time, the TA's time, and we are paying for this (And I'd much rather my money go towards the TA that I can understand), and this is why many undergrads resent the (thick or heavy) accented TA's.
lol. I wasn't going to say anything at all originally on this page, but I wanted to make that point clear when I saw some of the posts.
On the topic of English speaking teaching assistants: I've had a somewhat atypical (I suspect) experience myself. I'm a Mathematics major, and I've found that the teachers that spoke the best English knew the least math (or could not teach it well), and those who spoke the least knew the most. This was especially true in upper division courses, I found. Most of my Professors, too, were foreign-born and so typically had accents of some sort. It's just something you get used to in the subject, though. —PhilipNeustrom
I'd also like to point out that you're not paying the bulk of cost the University expends to educate you. According to a "recent New York Times" article, it costs the typical public university $31,000 each year to educate you. Are you racking up $31K in debt each year? I didn't think so, suck it up, deal and maybe try to meet your TA halfway. Everything a TA does in discussion is something you could have learned from lecture anyway. If you went to class, didn't fall behind and actually paid attention, you wouldn't need to go to discussion.
My experience in math with TA's has been very hit and miss there are some good ones and there are ones that by the end of the quarter the TA is the ONLY person showing up for discussion. BryanBell