Graduate Student Teaching Guidelines

I. Guidelines for Teaching Fellowships

The experience of teaching is an integral part of graduate student training for the PhD degree in the Arts and Sciences. Therefore, all graduate students are expected to gain appropriate teaching experience in their departments as part of their scholarly apprenticeship. Teaching Fellows receive the same financial aid support as Dean’s and Dissertation Fellows.

Advanced Arts and Sciences doctoral students may also apply to teach in the Core Curriculum Programs to broaden their teaching experience. Students who teach in the Undergraduate Writing Program, the Music Humanities Program, and the Art Humanities Program are appointed as Teaching Fellows. Those who teach in the Literature Humanities Programs and Contemporary Civilization Programs are appointed as Core Preceptors, receive slightly higher stipends than Teaching Fellows, and are eligible for a Core summer stipend at the end of their first year of service in the Core.

Last, the GSAS Teaching Scholars Program (TSP) affords some advanced graduate students—those who have already passed their prospectus defense—the opportunity to prepare and teach independently a course of their own devising. These students receive a year of Teaching Fellowship: one semester as the instructor of record teaching their own course, and the other semester with a TA assignment in their home department.

A. Guidelines for Selection and Assignment

The Graduate School asks each department to designate a faculty member, typically the director of graduate studies, to oversee the awarding of teaching fellowships and the pedagogical training in each department. The faculty member designated as the director of graduate student teaching in each department and the directors and chairs of the Core Curriculum Programs are responsible for ensuring that equitable appointments are made and that adequate training is provided. These faculty members should use the following guidelines to administer teaching programs and to select Teaching Fellows, to prevent misunderstandings and inequities in the allocation of financial aid to graduate students:

  1. Teaching Fellows must be in good academic standing. Students must be registered to be eligible for student officer appointments. Please note that students do not register after the semester in which they distribute the dissertation.
  2. Teaching Fellows in the Humanities and the Social Science departments have usually completed the first year of their graduate program at Columbia before being appointed to teaching assignments.
  3. Teaching Fellows must be within seven years since first registration in their program.
  4. Teaching Fellows must have demonstrated oral and written proficiency in English by passing tests administered by the American Language Program or must be enrolled in the International Teaching Fellows Training Course.
  5. The maximum requirement for teaching may not exceed two semester courses per year. In rare cases in which enrollments exceed the available number of instructors, advanced Teaching Fellows may take on an additional course load for additional compensation. First-time Teaching Fellows may not take on such additional teaching responsibilities. Teaching Fellows ordinarily do not take on additional teaching responsibilities or other employment.
  6. Teaching Fellows should be offered a range of teaching responsibilities with increasing independence and student contact, to prepare them gradually for independent teaching.
  7. Teaching Fellows should receive appropriate and equitable assignments. When workloads for Teaching Fellows vary depending on the type of assignment, these differences should be taken into consideration when making assignments to ensure that the overall workloads of students are equitable in the course of their graduate programs.
  8. Care should be taken that Teaching Fellows receive appropriate and equitable tasks. For example, in a course supported by more than one Teaching Fellow, all tasks assigned to students should be shared equally.
  9. All Teaching Fellows should be compensated according to the standards set by the Graduate School. Departments and programs may not hire GSAS students on the Arts and Sciences adjunct budget.
  10. If a student is awarded a Dissertation Fellowship, he or she may not be asked to give it up to teach.
  11. If an outside funding agency does not allow students to teach, students may not be asked to give up those funds in order to teach.
  12. In rare cases, a department may wish to recruit students from another department or school. The department must first contact the Office of the Dean of GSAS to obtain permission for the hire. Upon approval, the department may then contact the directors of graduate studies of relevant departments or directors of relevant PhD programs to identify potential hires.
  13. Academic departments and Core Curriculum Programs must provide students with written guidelines of the procedures used to assign and select Teaching Fellows that include:
    • an outline of the types of positions available and deadlines for stating preferences for assignments
    • a description of eligibility and selection criteria
    • an explanation of how and when applicants will be notified
    • details concerning how and when applicants should accept or decline a position
  14. Departments and Core Curriculum Programs must provide Teaching Fellows with appointment letters that indicate:
    • the type and length of the teaching assignment
    • the responsibilities expected of the assignment
    • the training requirements
    • the supervision and evaluation procedures
    • details about compensation
  15. The expected time commitment for Teaching Fellow duties is fifteen hours per week on average, and should not exceed twenty hours.
  16. Teaching Fellows should undergo training and supervision that adequately prepare them for their teaching responsibilities and facilitate their professional development. If a department or program is dissatisfied with a Teaching Fellow's performance, a review of his or her performance should be undertaken in a timely fashion. The DGS or faculty member in charge must inform the student in writing of his or her concerns, offer specific recommendations for improving performance, and give the student time to respond. If the student’s performance fails to improve, he or she will no longer to be considered to be in good administrative standing.
  17. Despite efforts to ensure that procedures for making teaching assignments are fair and that training for teaching responsibilities is adequate, disagreements and misunderstandings may arise. Graduate students and faculty should make every effort to resolve these differences by working together toward a satisfactory resolution. If these measures fail, they may elevate them to the appropriate dean in GSAS. If the dean is unable to resolve the matter, students may choose to resort to the GSAS grievance procedure.
  18. Teaching Fellows are to be assigned only to undergraduate courses, or to those with predominantly undergraduate populations (i.e., up to the 4000-level).

B. Policy on Teaching at Columbia University Affiliates

Graduate students on Graduate School funding are discouraged from accepting teaching appointments at Columbia University–affiliated institutions such as Barnard, Jewish Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, and Teachers College. Under no circumstances will employment totaling over twenty hours be approved. Students found in violation of this maximum number of hours will be asked to terminate their employment or may forfeit their GSAS funding. International students should be especially aware that more stringent limits on employment apply to them, and should consult the International Students and Scholars Office.

II. Guidelines for Training and Supervision of Graduate-Student Teachers

Departments must train and supervise graduate students who teach in the department. This training can be set up as a course that precedes or accompanies the teaching. This course should be listed on the student’s transcript. Teaching Fellows should be given very clear instructions about their teaching responsibilities and about their training requirements.

A. Before the Appointment/Duties Begin

Teaching Fellows Assisting Faculty Members

Teaching Fellows who assist faculty members should be given preparatory sessions to review the course syllabus, grading expectations, and specific duties within the course. Discussion leaders should be given precise instructions for and practice with leading class discussions. Written guidelines are helpful for introduction and reference, but are best augmented with training tailored to individual situations, and accompanied by in-person meetings individually or within workshops.

Teaching Fellows Teaching Their Own Courses/Sections

Graduate students given their own sections of introductory or upper-level courses should receive substantial preparatory training, including both practical advice and exposure to pedagogical methodologies. Whenever possible, this training should be designed as a course that could use a combination of formal meetings, workshops/discussion groups, and at-home assignments, including relevant readings and written assignments. Examples of written assignments could include (depending upon the course and the Teaching Fellow's duties), practice in creating lecture notes, questions for discussion, assignments, and exam questions.

Many programs and departments provide most of this kind of training during the semester that accompanies the actual teaching. However, departments should also provide some preliminary training before teaching begins.

B. During the Term(s) of Teaching

Teaching Fellows Assisting Faculty Members

Teaching Fellows who assist in grading should meet with the faculty member with some regularity, and at least once before they receive the first assignment to be graded, to receive detailed guidelines for grading and evaluating assignments during the term and to have their grading practices and written responses reviewed by the faculty member. Discussion leaders and lab assistants should be observed and have their class plans reviewed.

Teaching Fellows Teaching Their Own Courses/Sections

Teaching Fellows who teach their own course should receive ongoing mentoring on all aspects of their teaching, including preparing class plans/notes, designing a syllabus, creating assignments and exams, leading discussions, and grading written work.

As part of the training, a faculty mentor should observe at least one of the Teaching Fellow's classes in the first year of teaching. This mentoring may be provided by one faculty member for all Teaching Fellows or individually by different faculty members. In the latter case, the department should provide guidelines about what aspects of teaching the mentor should cover in the observation.

C. Evaluation

Each department should develop procedures for evaluating both the departmental training and the performance of the Teaching Fellows. In addition, there should be a clear understanding among all concerned about what constitutes unacceptable performance. Each semester, the director of graduate student teaching should read the official course evaluations for each Teaching Fellow, and address quickly and directly any deficiencies or problems that they may reveal.