Graduate teaching assistants teach or perform teaching-related activities in order to assist faculty, department chairs, or other staff at colleges and universities. At the same time, they work toward completion of a graduate degree, such as a Ph.D. Some are responsible for teaching an entire introductory course, including preparing lectures and giving grades. Others help faculty in teaching a course, including designing exams, grading papers, holding office hours, facilitating laboratory sessions, giving quizzes, or monitoring exams.
Usually teaching assistants meet prior to the beginning of classes with the faculty member they will be assisting in order to discuss which aspects of the course they will be responsible for. Different faculty members have different needs. Some require their teaching assistants to sit in on classes, while others give them assigned tasks to complete during classes. Graduate teaching assistants work either one-on-one with a faculty member or they may be one of several assistants in a larger course.
Graduate teaching assistants need to have the ability to communicate effectively with students, as well as relate well to them. They should enjoy working with students and be able to motivate the to succeed in their academic endeavors. Their minds should be inquiring and analytical, and they should have a strong desire to pursue and pass on knowledge. They often work in environments in which they have little direct supervision, requiring them to be self-directed and self-motivated.
In 2002, postsecondary teachers (the broader category of which graduate teaching assistants are a part) earned a median annual salary of $49,040. Earnings for graduate teaching assistants would fall closer to the lowest 10%, who earned less than $23,080.
Training and Education
Students who obtain jobs as graduate teaching assistants gain valuable experience teaching which may help them later in obtaining faculty positions. In order to be considered for graduate teaching assistant positions, candidates must be enrolled in a graduate school program. Some institutions require candidates to attend classes or participate in training before they are allowed to teach courses.
Most graduate teaching assistants work at the institution and in the department where they are earning their degree. However, in recent years, teaching or internship positions for graduate students at institutions that do not grant graduate degrees have become more common. A program entitled Preparing Future Faculty offers graduate students at research universities the opportunity to work as teaching assistants at other types of institutions, such as liberal arts of community colleges.
In 2002, graduate teaching assistants held about 128,000 jobs. A majority were employed in public and private 4-year colleges and universities and in 2-year community colleges.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of graduate teaching assistants is expected to grow much faster than the average. They play a vital role in the postsecondary education system, and they are expected to continue this role in future years. Demand for these types of teachers will be good for several reasons. Graduate enrollments are expected to increase at a slower rate, and total undergraduate enrollments are expected to increase almost twice as fast. This will create many positive job opportunities for graduate teaching assistants, who make up more than 12 percent of all postsecondary teachers.
For more information on how to pursue this profession, please see our Education Degree directory.