Students question TA teaching abilities

By Paul Kirk

NIU students are concerned that with the greater use of Teaching Assistants on campus they may not be receiving the quality education they pay for.

The resources, knowledge and experience of TAs in the college classroom can be integral to the learning process, but students have recently expressed concern over TAs who need to learn something about teaching.

According to a study done by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in the fall of 1990, LA&S employs 465 TAs.

192, or 41 percent, of the total number of TAs are doctoral students, while 273, or 59 percent, of the 465 TAs on campus are only master students.

James Norris, dean of LA&S, said it is rare for a TA to independently teach a class in the college. The majority of independently teaching instructors are employed in the English and Communication Studies departments, he said.

Most departments pick TAs by their own standards, Norris said.

The college asks that a potential TA be acceptable to their department, and pass an English exam if not a native speaker, he said.

LA&S doesn’t receive many complaints over the quality of TAs, but does receive a large amount of grievances over foreign accents.

“It is illegal to rule a person out for their accent,” Norris said.

Norris said NIU is not as reliant on TAs to independently instruct course sections as other schools of higher education in Illinois such as Urbana-Champaign.

NIU employs as much as 5 percent less TAs than other state schools.

“Every department handles their own TAs. Each has a different way to supervise,” Norris said.

Only about 29 percent of TAs act as independent instructors in the college, the remaining 70 percent are used as resource assistants in the college assisting professors or running recitation classes.

Norris said he believes TAs at NIU are more qualified than the high school teachers NIU is producing. For the most part, NIU TAs are continuing their education, he said.

“Our Teaching Assistants are supervised by very experienced people,” he said.

The experience gained by a continuing education is invaluable when teaching in a college classroom, Norris said.

He said he could not deny that high school teachers receive more teaching in education but said most independently teaching instructors are supervised for one class and must take a class in teaching.

“The finest high schools in the nation do not hire people with educational backgrounds in college. They hire people experienced in their field,” Norris said.

Norris said he recommends that students who have problems with TAs express their concerns to the TA’s supervisor and if necessary to the chair of the instructor’s department.

Another outlet for concern is the Ombudsman’s Office, though Norris said the Ombudsman would go through the same route recommended by LA&S.

The report done by LA&S is presently being revised to encompass 1991.