“The TA grading is frustrating.” “Quality depends a lot on the TA.” “My TA was great, which made working on the paper much more bearable.”

The quality of a teaching assistant can make or break a course, as demonstrated by the above testimonials taken from professor evaluations on RateMyProfessors.com. Yet despite their obvious impact on a student’s experience in a class, TAs remain unknown variables during preregistration.
The current manner of assigning students to TAs is arbitrary and happens long after students have registered for a course. As long as randomness in assigning TAs is allowed to persist, it would be practical and productive to offer information about a course’s TAs during registration.

Many classes, especially introductory courses, rely heavily on TAs to lead discussion sections, grade papers and help students with difficult material. There are even instances in which TAs determine students’ final grades.

There is variability in the quality and rigor of professors within departments, and students are given the opportunity to read evaluations and choose among these professors during registration. Why, then, is it acceptable for the assignment of TAs — who wield a significant amount of influence in many classes — to be left to chance?
At a minimum, TAs should be listed for a course during the Add/Drop period of registration, when students would be able to pursue or avoid certain graduate students based on reputation or personal experience. Many TAs work with the same course for multiple semesters and develop a performance record, which would allow for quantitative feedback to be provided on MyAccess as it is for professors. Making TA information and reviews available during this time would allow students to avoid being locked into an unwanted situation.

It warrants mentioning that the need for these proposals only arises when such levels of influence and variability exists among teaching assistants. If TAs did not hold such power in determining the outcome of a course, perhaps evaluations of them would not be necessary. For now, however, students should not be subjected to the random nature of TA assignment.

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