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What is so wrong with TAs?

yougotjohnyougotjohn 565 replies89 threads Member
edited June 2006 in College Search & Selection
Many people see a TA teaching a class as an immediate warning sign. But honestly, what is so bad about a TA? A TA is just a few years older than you and can probably relate better, is intelligent, has a real interest in learning, has more time for class than a professor, and is sometimes training to be a professor themself. Yes, it might be preferable to have a tenured professor. But people need to become professors somehow, don't they?
edited June 2006
26 replies
Post edited by yougotjohn on
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Replies to: What is so wrong with TAs?

  • coureurcoureur 11196 replies190 threads Senior Member
    Having a class taught by a TA is like going to the hospital and being treated by a medical student. Your care may be okay, in fact it may even be very good, but it's not what you expected and it's not what you paid for.
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  • yougotjohnyougotjohn 565 replies89 threads Member
    But without medical students, we would have no doctors. It's your comittment to the future of the system. And most people probably don't realize how many of their "doctors" have actually been medical students.
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  • MarianMarian 13230 replies83 threads Senior Member
    The main thing wrong with TAs is that their signatures on the bottom of a letter of recommendation don't carry as much clout as a professor's signature.
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  • Bill_h_pikeBill_h_pike 1155 replies53 threads Senior Member
    Many make little secret that they hate teaching the course.
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  • WindSlicerWindSlicer 1148 replies25 threads Senior Member
    "But without medical students, we would have no doctors. It's your comittment to the future of the system. And most people probably don't realize how many of their "doctors" have actually been medical students."

    That's why there are medical teaching hospitals.

    You don't pay $40,000 a year to be taught by someone in training. These "in-training" can train in institutions that advertise as training institutions.
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  • bing121086bing121086 1088 replies9 threads Senior Member
    I disagree, my favorite teacher so far in college has been a TA. I was much more comfortable talking to him than to any of my professors; he was an awesome teacher, and he knew his stuff. With the exception of their age and maybe their wardrobe (t-shirts and jeans as opposed to tweed coats with elbow patches) I doubt I would have been able to tell my TA's from my professors in terms of teaching ability. My TA's have, in general, been much friendlier, much more involved in the class, and my professors while good too, have seemed more aloof and more likely to lecture than discuss.
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  • NewbyrebornNewbyreborn 1748 replies278 threads Senior Member
    yougotjohn wrote:
    what is so bad about a TA?
    Depends, if the TA is someone who has been working toward his Masters for 6 years, and is still stressed and not even coming close to getting it! then you are going to have a very hard time (that is most the case!!!)

    and rarely! very rarely, you get someone who excels in what he does and is a TA who just wants to make a few $$$ for a drink on a saturday night, then you are in luck! because he'll be extremely helpful!
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  • BlobofBlobof 1182 replies1 threads Senior Member
    Funny, at my alma mater, TA's are limited to tutorials (and in many cases, like for example Calculus, are often better appreciated than the actual professor teaching the class, well at least some of them). A graduate student actually teaching a class gets the title of Instructor, while people with Master's or PhD without the title of professor (including assistant, associate, adjunct, visiting, emeritus or otherwise) who teach classes get the title of Lecturer...

    And trust me, not all professors like teaching the low level courses, some take it almost as punishment, while a grad student is more likely to take it as an opportunity to get teaching experience for his/her resume, and will be much more eager to do a good job to get good reviews.
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  • mattmommattmom 1747 replies16 threads Senior Member
    There should not be anything wrong with having a TA teach you, and it should be exactly what you expect when you go to a university that has graduate programs. TAs are graduate students and by definition teaching asistants handle discussion or quiz sections--smaller groups within a larger class, with the lecture taught by professors. Some TAs are great teachers, others are not. the same is true at any level of teaching. Almost nowhere would a TA have sole responsibility for teaching a course--if a graduate student is lucky enojgh to have his or her own class to teach it will be with the designation of instructor, not TA. You will know ahead of time who the instructor is before you sign up for the course, so you will know whether it is a professor or an isntructor.

    Note too that not all people designated professors have tenure or are even permanent faculty--assistant and adjunct professors are not tenured and may be at any level of teaching skill. Also, being a TA is a fairly desirable thing, so someone who has been trying to get an MA for six years is very unlikely to get pr hold onto a TA-ship at a good school--he or she will be out of the program long before that.
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  • AmericanskiAmericanski 682 replies1 threads Member
    You can probably "relate" even better to your classmates, but you wouldn't want them teaching the course. People do need to become professors somehow, but that doesn't mean anybody should be thrilled to be their guinea pig.
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  • ChedvaChedva 18947 replies11738 threads Senior Member
    The reason it's a warning sign is because it signals that the school is not dedicated to teaching undergraduates. There's nothing against the individual TAs. It shows that the school is dedicated to research and training graduate students. Professors are hired for their research abilities, not their teaching abilities.
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  • UMDADUMDAD 1295 replies152 threads Senior Member
    In a large intro lecture class of 100-200-300 students, there would be no discussion sections without the TAs. A single professor could not handle the load without the TAs. In that situation, the TA is often a student of the professor in a masters or PhD program.

    However, if you are in an upper level class that is taught by a TA, you may have a problem.
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  • BlobofBlobof 1182 replies1 threads Senior Member
    Well, that is the other thing. By itself, there is nothing wrong with the notion of graduate instructor. For things like summer courses, or large classes with many sections, it's normal to have them. It becomes a problem when many courses are taught by graduate instructors (without at least one section being given by a prof, who also has the job of course coordinator).
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  • PackMomPackMom 7650 replies17 threads Senior Member
    There are two sides to everything. S had a grad. student for Calc.2 last semester and was very impressed by him. He offered office hours for students who needed help. My S attended those regularly and commented the the teacher was so smart that other grad students were in the office getting help from him too. It had been 2 years since S took Calc.1(in h.s.) and still managed a B in Calc.2 due to this great grad student.
    Conversely he had a Prof. for Chemistry who he said spent the whole time trying to prove that he was way smarter than the students. He routinely put trick questions on the tests, etc. Not a very good teacher.
    S got a B in that class too but def. felt the grad. student Calc. teacher was way better because he was interested in helping the students learn rather than trying to weed-out kids based on trick questions and such.
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  • sakkysakky - 14561 replies196 threads Senior Member
    I agree with some of the other posters here that there is nothing inherently 'wrong' with the concept of TA's.

    If there is something that could be said to be 'wrong', it's in the way that universities market themselves to potential students and their parents. For example, all major research universities will boast of the eminence of their faculty, including how many Nobel Prizes they've won, how many National Academy membes they have, the prominence of their research, etc. Hence, to the unwitting, the schools make it seem, in their marketing, that undergrads will have constant intimate contact with highly respected professors. The truth, which many of us know, is far different, and that much of the undergraduate student interaction will be with TA's, not professors. But this fact is rarely discussed in the university's marketing brochures. It's somewhat shady and tricky advertising.

    Now obviously, for the people who know the truth, the advertising and marketing don't matter. But there are a lot of people out there who just don't know. For example, I've encountered lots of students who are the first in their family to ever go to college. They don't know what the truth is. Hence, the marketing deceives them.
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  • LakeWashingtonLakeWashington 8959 replies485 threads Senior Member
    Yep, you do get what you pay for; and at many universities taking classes which are taught by TAs is part of the freight. Milage may vary. Some TAs will take you a long way intellectually. Others are in the early stages of becoming bad professors.
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  • DRabDRab 6047 replies57 threads Senior Member
    And if you pay full price at Harvard or Stanford, do you think you will avoid TAs? No, it's not "you get what you pay for." It's not so simple.
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  • interesteddadinteresteddad 23879 replies298 threads Senior Member
    In a large intro lecture class of 100-200-300 students, there would be no discussion sections without the TAs. A single professor could not handle the load without the TAs.

    Maybe I'm just simple-minded. But, for $40,000 a year, shouldn't a student expect the college to hire enough professors to reduce class sizes such that the professor could conduct discussion sections, provide feedback on papers, hold office hours, and generally do the stuff associated with teaching undergrads?
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  • AlexandreAlexandre 24280 replies434 threads Senior Member
    My problem with people who try to use the TA issue is that they either exaggerate or they don't know what they are talking about. Yes, TAs teach 101 classes and assist professors in 100 level classes...and sometimes even in 200 level classes. But even at major research institutions like Cal, Chicago, Cornell, Harvard, Michigan, MIT and Stanford, TAs play a very minor role. Over 90% of my interaction with instructors at Michigan was with full-time professors...and almost all of remaining interaction with TAs was during my Freshman year. My close friends at Michigan and other major research universities like Cal, Cornell, MIT and Stanford had similar experiences to my own.

    Yes, it is true that the nobel prize winners do not teach undergrads that often, but you still have incredible faculty that is not necessarily recognized teaching undergrads at those top universities. I took 3 Political Science and 3 Psychology classes at Michigan and 3 of those 6 classes were taught by faculty members that are considered among the top 10 in their field in the World. Their names (Raymond Tanter, who is now retired and teaching part time at Georgetown I believe, Kenneth Lieberthal and John Holland) would mean nothing to the majority of us on this board, but they all taught undergrads in relatively intimate settings and addressed all their students by their first name. I had the pleasure of getting to know them personally and they were always approachable.

    Additionally, I took classes with several major faculty member in my chosen fields of study (Economics, Physics and History). Professors like Jim Adams, Charlie Brown, Hal Varian (now dean of the Econ department at Berkeley), George Johnson, Mile Kimball, Gary Solon, Sidney Fine, William Rosenberg, Dena Goodman, Kathleen Canning, Jim Allen, Dan Amidei and Phil Baucksbaum. Only a world class research university can expose undergrads to such faculty members in an intimate setting.

    Yes, I has minimal interaction with TAs my Freshman year, always as discussion group leaders but never as lecturers or instructors. But the handful of TAs I dealt were all excellent, with the exception of one who's English was atrocious! LOL
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  • PackMomPackMom 7650 replies17 threads Senior Member
    Agree about atrocious English. S had originally registered for Calc.1 as a refresher class since it had been awhile since he had it in h.s. but got a grad student with an accent so thick it was nearly impossible to understand. So he dropped the class and took Calc. 2 instead, stll got a grad student but an Eng. speaking one who was very helpful.
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