GTA Summer Teaching Policy and Procedures
The Mathematics Department at Penn State University plays a fundamentally important role in the delivery of undergraduate courses at the University Park campus. For the last several years, Mathematics has delivered the second-most credit hours on campus, only surpassed each year by the English Department. Because of this, it is critical that close attention is paid to the development of, and assessment of, all of the people who serve as instructors in the department’s courses, especially those courses which are most often completed by students in the first or second year at the university.
During the fall and spring semester of each academic year, such oversight of instructors takes place in numerous forms. For example, each multi-section 000-, 100-, and 200-level course taught in the department is overseen by a course coordinator who cares for the development of the course syllabus, the writing of the midterm and final examinations, and to an extent, handles some of the concerns raised by the students in the course (should any such concerns arise). (In the case of 7-8 courses in the department, this coordinator is one person, the Coordinator of First-Year Courses.) Such oversight is critical, especially given that numerous students are taught in these courses by the department’s graduate teaching assistants (GTAs).
Additional oversight for these GTAs during the fall and spring semesters comes in other forms. If the GTA is teaching for the first time during a spring semester, they are part of the department’s Mentoring Program and as such their classes will be visited numerous times by their assigned mentor. Otherwise, each GTA is visited at least once per semester by a member of the GTA Oversight Committee who evaluates the GTA’s teaching. Moreover, the department’s administrators, including the Director of Undergraduate Mathematics and the Associate Chair of the department, are readily available during fall and spring semesters to assist GTAs with teaching-related issues and to meet with undergraduate students who have concerns about their courses.
The oversight situation for GTAs is drastically different during the summer semester at Penn State University Park. Many of the support structures mentioned above are not as firmly in place during the summer (if at all). For example, the Mentoring Program is not run in the summer session and the GTA Oversight Committee does not meet in the summer (due in large part to the absence of most faculty members). Additionally, the Director of Undergraduate Mathematics is potentially away for a substantial portion of the summer session as is the Coordinator of First-Year Courses. Therefore, it is imperative that those GTAs teaching in the summer session require little or no oversight on the part of a course coordinator, that they be able to teach their students, and assess their students, in a highly professional and capable way. Because of this, it is important for the department to take steps to insure that those GTAs who teach mathematics at Penn State during the summer be highly qualified to do so.
Policy and Procedure
With the above rationale in mind, the following policy and procedure list shall be implemented starting with the 2008-2009 academic year.
First, no GTA in the Penn State Mathematics Department will be allowed to begin their teaching career at Penn State in the summer. Put differently, every GTA who wishes to teach for the department during a summer session is required to have successfully taught at least one course during a prior fall or spring semester.
Secondly, during the spring semester of each academic year, soon after the completion of the mid-semester evaluations on the part of all GTAs, the GTA Oversight Committee will review each GTAs past teaching performance and determine which GTAs are competent to teach a course for the department during the summer. It is expected that the majority of GTAs will fall in this “competent” category. Before the time to complete the summer teaching assignments, the department head will meet with the chair of the GTA Oversight Committee, the Director of Undergraduate Mathematics, and anyone else deemed of importance, to discuss the findings of the GTA Oversight Committee and potential summer teaching assignments. If in the eyes of all involved it is clear that a GTA is not qualified to teach during the upcoming summer session, the department head will notify that GTA that they will not receive a teaching assignment for that summer. The department head will also provide said GTA will suggestions for improvement which may include but not be restricted to attendance of the department’s upcoming GTA Training Program, additional English language training, or one-on-one mentoring with an experienced instructor in the department.
In the last few years, the department has instituted a Graduate Teaching Associate program which recognizes GTAs in the Mathematics Department who have a successful teaching record. One of the goals of this program was to encourage the vast majority of GTAs to complete this program with the goal of providing three “incentives”. These incentives include a modest pay increase, a certificate of recognition signed by the department head, and priority access to summer teaching assignments. Indeed, completion of this program would be truly beneficial in caring for some of the issues that have been raised above.