Monitoring Laurier’s TAs

After an unprofessional email was sent from a TA, the university is committed to making sure TAs know how to act appropriately with students

Everyday, hundreds of students at Wilfrid Laurier University communicate with their teaching assistants before, during and after classes.

Teaching assistants, also known as TAs, are trained to have a professional relationship with their students, whether the TA considers themselves to be an undergraduate or graduate student.

Unfortunately, Andrew Harris, a fourth-year biology student, received an inappropriate response from his TA when Harris asked for their office location.

“I emailed him back asking for clarification on what office, specifically where it is and he emailed me back saying, ‘Really? Lol you’re in 4th year. It’s on the third floor. Look for signs,’” Harris explained.

“Through email you should remain professional, especially if you’re representing a certain position.”

Tristan Long, associate professor and a graduate coordinator for the department of biology, said all Laurier TAs receive training through their different departments.

“TAs are students, just like undergraduate students. They’re governed by Laurier’s policies on student governance and student conduct, and we strive our best to make sure in our training sessions that they know that professionalism is key,” said Long.

According to Long, the university’s procedure seems to work between students and TA’s.

“Obviously this is a case which seems to fly in the face of that.”

In an email with Jane Rutherford, undergraduate academic advisor in the department of biology, Rutherford said biology TAs are graduate students and are subject to all

expectations covered in their orientation training for new graduate students.

“Through email you should remain professional, especially if you’re representing a certain position.”

“Grad students who started their programs in 2015 were required to attend the graduate students orientation (Sept. 8 to 11) sessions, which are designed to help new grad student develop the skills they need to develop to be effective teaching assistants,” Rutherford said in an email.

Rutherford explained how in a large enrolment course with a number of lab sections, the lab coordinator is responsible for monitoring the work of the TAs.

The lab coordinator will also run bi-weekly or weekly training sessions.

In smaller classes, the instructor or professor may be more involved in the teachings.

“In these sessions, especially at the beginning of the academic year, not only would aspects of the lab exercises be covered, but also general advice and instruction on how best to interact with students in the courses would also be covered,” Rutherford said.

If a student feels they are unhappy with their TAs, whether that be in the classroom or in their office hours, Laurier has an established procedure.

The first step is to contact the course coordinator and professor, a step Long feels is strongly encouraged for students.

Rutherford mentioned if a student does not make their professor or instructor aware of a problem with a TA, the professor or instructor cannot do anything to address the issue.

“From there, if it can’t be resolved, it goes up to myself as the grad coordinator and then if necessary goes up to the chair of the department.”

After talking to the chair, Long stressed that the university will communicate with TAs to let them know they must talk to their students in a professional manner.

“Graduate students are under an awful lot of stress, they have to juggle this as their job plus they have to take courses and they also have to conduct research and sometimes it’s hard to juggle all of those, it’s a very tough job being a TA,” he said.

Although the vast majority of TAs and students are highly appropriate and professional, Long hopes Laurier students will realize that issues of this sort are taken very seriously by the university.

*This article has been altered from its original version. The original version said the Graduate Students’ Association is part of training for TAs. The GSA does not provide TA training, but is advocating for better training. The Cord apologizes for this error.

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