Kathleen Smyth

Kathleen Smyth

Education, Culture & Society/College of Education
Rhetoric & Composition/College of Humanities


A Teaching Counselor for Graduate Student TAs: Thinking about Pedagogy and Enabling Leadership

Faculty Mentor: Maureen Mathison - Communication & The Writing Program/College of Humanities

Institutionally, the preparation and training of graduate students for future faculty roles and "citizen-scholar" positions is a significant issue and research topic in higher education (Austin & Wulff, 2004; Colbeck, O'Meara & Austin, 2008). This line of research is committed to helping graduate programs and courses meet the needs, experiences and development of new graduate students, who must negotiate or manage multiple and sometimes, competing demands.

The purpose of this project is to create a teaching counselor job description for graduate TAs across disciplines at the University of Utah. A teaching counselor would be an experienced graduate TA interested in providing new TAs with feedback and mentoring, especially related to teaching and learning needs within their specific departments and programs of study. While the TA role has taken prominence in the field of graduate education since the 1970s through research, public interest, and larger university administration (Austin & Wulff, 2004, p. 5-6), new efforts to create and improve training and development tend to be obscured by either explicit or implicit messages in academic structures and practices that tell new TAs that their teaching is not that important to their professional futures.

A teaching counselor job description for departments across campus would begin to answer the call to prepare graduate students for more teaching roles they may assume in their professional careers. Wulff et. al (2004) report that graduate education does not provide students with enough feedback and mentoring, especially about their teaching. Most TAs receive limited support from faculty about daily demands of teaching and therefore rely heavily on self-reflection to evaluate their effectiveness or ineffectiveness of teaching methods, student-teacher interactions, and assessment (Wulff et. al, 2004, p. 59). The teaching counselor job description will detail how an experienced TA within differing departments can address the crucial need to give new TAs a basis in pedagogy and research related to student learning. The job description will outline the general functions and tasks, the qualifications and skills required, the method of payment, and the benefits to graduate student professional development.
The benefit of a teaching counselor for new TAs in departments across campus is a more intensive focus on teaching because as Weisbuch (2004) claims "teaching beyond all classrooms anywhere is a definition that might provide some life to the tired notion of service" (p. 227). The next generation of faculty should be progressively prepared to teach beyond the academic institution they were trained in so they are able to assume positions that are actually going to be available to them as well as serve the larger community that needs it. Teaching skills are important and marketable as " scholars are increasingly appointed into term and part-time appointments rather than traditional full-time tenure-stream positions" (Austin & Wulff, 2004, p. 10). A teaching counselor would allow new TAs to reflect on their practice and encourage them to discover changes they can make to improve their pedagogy and undergraduate learning experiences.


Kathleen Smyth - Poster