Graduate Student Teaching Training and Guidelines

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 teaching experience appropriate to their discipline as part of their scholarly training.  Doctoral students are appointed as student officers of instruction when serving as TAs or the instructor of record.  Students hold the title of “Teaching Assistant” unless they are the instructor of record in which case they hold the title of “Teaching Fellow”.  An exception is made for students teaching in the Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization Programs is described below.  Unless otherwise specified, this document will use the titles of Teaching Fellow and Teaching Assistant interchangeably.

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 Preceptors, receive slightly higher salaries than Teaching Fellows, and are eligible for a Core summer stipend at the end of each full year of service as a Preceptor.

Last, the GSAS Teaching Scholars Program (TSP) affords some advanced graduate students the opportunity to prepare and teach independently a course of their own devising. These students are appointed as student officers of instruction for an academic year:  one semester as the instructor of record teaching their own course and holding the title of Teaching Fellow, and the other semester with a TA assignment in their home department and holding the title of Teaching Assistant.

Guidelines for Selection and Assignment

The Graduate School asks each department to designate a faculty member—typically but not necessarily the director of graduate studies—to oversee the assignment of student officers of instruction and the pedagogical training of instructors 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 doctoral student officers of instruction:

  1. Teaching Assistants 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, are therefore ineligible for an appointment as student officer.  Those in the Humanities and the Social Science departments are expected to have completed the first year of their graduate program at Columbia before being appointed to teaching assignments.
  2. Teaching Assistants may only be appointed within seven years since first registration in their program.
  3. Teaching Assistants 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.
  4. 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 Assistants may be asked to take on an additional section of the same course for additional compensation; but it is entirely up to the student to accept this offer. First-time Teaching Assistants may not take on such additional teaching responsibilities. Teaching Assistants ordinarily do not take on additional teaching responsibilities or other employment.
  5. Teaching Assistants should be offered a range of teaching responsibilities with increasing independence and student contact, to prepare them gradually for independent teaching.
  6. Teaching Assistants should receive appropriate and equitable assignments. When workloads for Teaching Assistants 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.
  7. Care should be taken that Teaching Assistants receive appropriate and equitable tasks. For example, in a course supported by more than one Teaching Assistants, all tasks assigned to students should be shared equally.
  8. All Teaching Assistants should be compensated according to the levels set by the Graduate School and by the terms of the existing student employee contract. Departments and programs may not hire GSAS graduate students on the Arts and Sciences adjunct budget.
  9. If a student is awarded a Dissertation Fellowship, he or she may not be asked to give it up, nor may the student choose to postpone it to teach instead.
  10. If an outside funding agency does not allow students to teach, students may not be asked to give up that source of support to teach instead.
  11. In rare cases, a department may wish to recruit students from another Columbia department or school. The department must first contact the Office of the Dean of GSAS to obtain permission for such an appointment and to discuss pedagogical needs and appropriate process to identify and certify students.
  12. Academic departments and Core Curriculum programs must provide students with written guidelines of the procedures used to assign and select Teaching Assistants 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
  13. Departments and Core Curriculum programs must provide Teaching Assistants with appointment letters that conform to the standard University-wide templates provided by the Office of the Dean of GSAS.
  14. Depending on the department and assignment, the expected time commitment for Teaching Assistant duties should never exceed twenty hours.
  15. Teaching Assistants should undergo explicit 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 Assistant’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 academic standing.
  16. Despite efforts to ensure that procedures for making teaching assignments are fair and that training for teaching responsibilities is adequate, disagreements 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 DGS or the chair of the department. If the matter is still not resolved, they may raise it to the Associate Dean of Academic and Student Affairs at GSAS. If the dean is unable to resolve the matter, students may choose to resort to the internal GSAS grievance procedure.
  17. Teaching Assistants are to be assigned only to undergraduate courses, or to those with predominantly undergraduate populations (i.e., up to the 4000-level).

Policy on Teaching at Columbia University Affiliates

Graduate students on Graduate School funding are discouraged from accepting teaching appointments at Columbia–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 stringent limits on employment apply to them, and should consult the International Students and Scholars Office.

Departments must train and supervise graduate students who teach in the department. This training may be set up as a course that precedes or accompanies the teaching. When it exists, such a course should be listed on the student’s transcript. Training may, of course, take other formats such as workshops, practicums, discussion sessions, etc. Teaching Assistants should be given clear instructions about their teaching responsibilities and about their training expectations and requirements.

Before the Appointment/Duties Begin

Teaching Fellows Who are Instructors of Record

Graduate students given their own sections of introductory or upper-level courses should receive substantial preparatory training in the department, 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 class organization and 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.

Teaching Assistants Who Hold Discussion Sessions

Teaching Assistants who assist in discussion sessions and grading 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 courses and situations, and accompanied by in-person meetings individually or within workshops.

During the Term(s) of Teaching

Teaching Fellows Who are Instructors of Record

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.

Teaching Assistants Who Hold Discussion Sessions

Teaching Assistants who assist in discussion sessions and 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.


Each department should develop procedures for evaluating both the departmental training and the performance of all doctoral student officers of instruction. In addition, there should be a clear understanding among all concerned about what constitutes unacceptable performance. Each semester, the director of graduate student teaching (or a person assigned to this task) should read the official course evaluations for each student officer, and address quickly and directly any deficiencies or problems that they may reveal.