When teaching assistants don’t come through

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Students have rights when dealing TAs

Sarah del Giallo
The Eyeopener (Ryerson University)

TORONTO (CUP) –– With Canada’s university student population expanding, more teaching assistants are being hired to help professors manage large classes and an overwhelming number of marking obligations.

But some TAs aren’t upholding a standard that satisfies their students. Second-year Ryerson University student Megan Lovell took a mandatory statistics course where the TA did more harm than help.

“He didn’t have a statistical background, but he was marking our stats work,” she said.

Lovell said the TA had miscalculated her midterm mark by 17 points, and over half of her class also had to have their midterms corrected.

“I felt annoyed that I had to get everything from that class re-marked or I had to argue it,” she said.

She said the professor understood that Lovell and her peers were frustrated.

“But there was only so much he could do other than re-grade,” said Lovell. “He did his best, but he didn’t really do much else.”

The university hires TAs through departments and uses a tier system with Ryerson students at the top. First-year graduate students are the first choice and next are second-year or later graduate students without scholarships or stipends of more than $21,000.

If there are still positions available, the system moves next to fourth-year undergraduates and second-year or later graduate students with scholarships or stipends of more than $21,000. After that, TAs can be hired from other universities.

Liana Salvador, vice-president of education for the Ryerson’s students’ union, said, “For grads, there aren’t enough TA-ships. I think it’s important for the TAs to have the opportunity to support the professor.”

But the students’ union also has options for students who aren’t satisfied with their TA’s performance. They provide advocacy for students and can provide information and workshops about appeals.

Salvador said students need to know that no matter what the case, they have rights.

“We’re going to work to ensure their rights are protected,” said Salvador.

Director of faculty affairs Brad Walters said TAs play an important role in student success, but the success of their students isn’t their priority.

“The primary focus should be doing their academic work,” said Walters.

An undergraduate TA can make a maximum of $3,835 per term while a graduate assistant can make a maximum of $4,972.

“We’re trying to ensure employment and income for incoming Ryerson graduate students,” Walters said.

But for Lovell, whose curriculum requires her to learn within a system of TAs, having an assistant who didn’t seem to have her best interests as a priority was frustrating.

“I had one bad experience, but my overall experience has been pretty good,” she said. “Seeing the difference between having someone who knows what they’re doing compared to someone who doesn’t is unbelievable.”

TA contract obligations

The obligations of a TA vary based on contracts. But here are some of the obligations contracts usually include: preparing for classes, revising and maintaining course-related material, attending lectures, serving as tutors, leading discussions and supervising laboratories, demonstrating and explaining the use of equipment, holding office hours, consulting with students.

For the specific obligations of your TA, talk to your professor.

What are your rights?
If you’re having trouble with a TA, here are some options:
Talk to your TA: Being assertive is sometimes the best option. If the TA knows you’re dissatisfied, they might step up their game. Try and do this before going to a professor.
Talk to your professor: If you explain the issue and that you’ve tried to resolve the issue by speaking to the TA, the prof can have a chat with the TA.
Appeal: You have the right to appeal grades and deadlines. Most students’ unions have guidelines, advice, and rules about appeals and advocacy.
 

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