The Behind-the-Scenes Work of a G.A.

Like Candace, I also have grad assistantship that deals with students and teaching. But, the difference is that I don’t actually teach. Instead, I grade papers, tests and quizzes; manage attendance; deal with hear from students who contest or challenge grades; and do a lot of the time-consuming work that professors don’t have time to do, since they’re busy doing their own research.

That’s a concept I didn’t understand when I came to WVU – why do professors need GAs anyway? I figured it was because they simply didn’t want to do some of the grunt work. However, now I realize that being a professor is at least a 60-hour-a-week position. So, the professor works 40 hours, teaching, planning lessons, designing assignments and tests and conducting research (which is part of the profession of the professor). The other 20 hours is then delegated to me. So, it makes sense for me to do all the grading, copies and other time-consuming work.

Anyway, back to the point – I came to grad school because I want to eventually be a professor and teach at a university. So, my GA experience has given me a lot of insight into the behind-the-scenes work of college courses. I came from a small college for undergrad, so a 40 to 50-person class was large there, but smaller at WVU. The sheer number of people at a larger university creates different challenges and red tape in assisting with classes.

First, it’s important to be firm with students as far as policy goes. To every rule there is an exception, but those really need to be few and far between. For example, if the syllabus says, “you have one week to challenge a grade,” that policy must be followed. This helps students become more proactive in managing grades, and helps you as a GA stay organized, as original assignments over a week old can be archived and better protected.

Also, try to accomplish as much as you can as early as you can. If it’s Friday, and 50 copies of a 15-page exam need to be done by Tuesday, do that as soon as possible. Likewise, incorporate time-saving tasks, like actively keeping track of attendance throughout the month instead of trying to add absence up at the end of the semester.

Third, keep any and all e-mails sent to you by students. That way, there is a record of communication if a student accuses the GA of not performing a certain task or responding to an e-mail.

Finally, if you have to grade papers that are subjective in nature, make sure to create a sort-of rubric for those papers. After reading 30 of 50, your brain may start to become mush. And, we’re in journalism school, so writing is important. It’s okay to dock grades for poor grammar, sentence structure, spelling, etc.

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3 thoughts on “The Behind-the-Scenes Work of a G.A.

  1. bre7714 says:

    It’s interesting to get a look at what a GA position is like. I’m considering getting a Master’s at some point, and probably something Journalism-related like the IMC program (see http://imc.wvu.edu/) Do you think it’s better to go right into it or take a year or two to get some work experience? It’s too late for me to go back and apply for next year anyway, but I’ve heard a lot of different things. I guess my main concern is, what if I can’t find a job directly related to my education experience? Would that hurt my application process?

  2. aaaaaargh says:

    Interesting post, Matt. I didn’t know you had interest in a career in academia.

  3. thecoalfist says:

    Awesome post, Matt. Do you find that the GA position has fueled the fire of your passion for teaching, or has it made you draw back the reigns a bit?

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