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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

FAQ for TAs

Page address: http://english.mnsu.edu/composition/faqs.html

So you are thinking about applying for a teaching assistantship but still have some lingering questions. Below, six TAs--Teresa, Sarah J., Rhea, Lisa, Kara, and Sarah S.—answer your common concerns.

 

1. How can I make myself stand out as a TA applicant to improve my chances at securing a teaching assistantship?

Make sure that you express why you want to teach composition. Everyone knows that the tuition and stipend are a great motivation for this position, so go a step further and discuss why you think you'd be a good teacher - what your ideas about first-year composition are - what you'd bring to the classroom. --Sarah J.

 

Prepare for the interview like you would any other interview: Spend some time thinking about your relevant experience. Have a friend interview you for practice. --Kara

 

Showcase any teaching or mentor work you might have done in the past, through camp, church, or other capacity. If you haven't had related experience, you could talk about the tools you used to develop as a writer and student. --Sarah S.

2. Do I need prior teaching experience to be awarded a teaching assistantship?

Having previous teaching experience at college or high school level is nice but not required. TAs will take teaching assistant workshops the summer before they begin teaching and the during the fall. . . Any previous coursework dealing with pedagogy is a plus but not essential. --Teresa

3. Is it difficult to fulfill TA teaching responsibilities AND graduate coursework requirements? How do TAs balance these competing demands on their time?

The balance of demands is difficult, but in a very rewarding way. The support of fellow TAs is especially crucial in this area, as we are all going through it together. It's common for TAs to not only share teaching experiences but also teaching materials. Utilizing fellow TAs as resources is immensely helpful. --Lisa

 

In short, yes. It is demanding, but since I hope to have a career teaching someday, I see the TA requirements as quite valuable in my development as a teacher. There is a lot of support available, and over time, you learn how to handle the duties more efficiently. --Rhea

4. In a given week, how much time do TAs spend on their teaching?

All told, the twenty hours per week listed on the announcement is valid. Some weeks a little more, some weeks less. --Rhea

 

Obviously, there is the four hours a week in the actual classroom. Prep time in the first semester could be anywhere between two to four hours before class developing lesson plans, but that time gets pared down to about a half-hour to an hour before class after the first semester (because you have laid the groundwork and have a portfolio of lesson plans prepared). --Sarah S.

5. I'm nervous about the prospect of geting a teaching assistantship and being told to go teach. How much help do TAs get in planning their courses?

Tons! The guidance and preparation for teaching is extensive and the combination of training classes, the mentor program, and the accessibility of the director and other TAs as resources is hugely helpful. I have never once felt “alone” in the process. --Lisa

 

TAs at this institution receive a lot of support. Experienced TAs are a great resource, the Director of Composition is readily available, and you will be in classes with other new TAs. You will find a lot of encouragement and a wealth of ideas all around you. --Sarah J.

6. What is the TA "community" like at Minnesota State Mankato?

The TA community is very supportive. TAs interact with each other on a daily basis, sharing successful teaching methods, lesson plans, and assignments, as well as relating the triumphs and woes of being a new composition instructor. . .The TA offices allow for discussions and sharing of ideas/successes. There are also plenty of professional and social opportunities for TAs to create close professional and social ties. Some of these include: attending/presenting at conferences, working on committees, joining organizations, attending graduate student readings and presentations, and gathering on or off campus. --Teresa

 

It's a great community. By the end of the TA workshop, you will know the other new TAs quite well, and sharing office space with new and returning TAs during the school year also helps you develop friendships and helpful working relationships throughout the year. While the summer and fall TA workshops provide a great basis for teaching, the informal interactions I have with my fellow TAs is perhaps the most helpful part of the TA community. I routinely email other TAs to ask for advice or to share my little successes. And when I need to gripe, people are there to commiserate! --Kara