Responsibilities of graduate teaching fellows

There are three basic types of teaching duties a Graduate Teaching Fellow may have: grading, teaching laboratory sections, or teaching discussion sections. Your teaching activities should account for about 20 hours per week on average. You should speak with the supervising faculty member for more detailed descriptions of duties, as class activities are discipline-, department-, and course-specific.


  • Office hours and attendance at lectures are usually required
  • Evaluate student performance on problem sets, quizzes, or essay exams
  • Maintain accurate grade records


  • Usually multiple sections per week, depending on duration of each session
  • Office hours and attendance at lectures are usually required
  • Maintain accurate attendance and laboratory grade records
  • Give an introduction to the concepts, materials used, and safety concerns
  • Actively monitor student activities
  • Give summary of the day’s objectives
  • Evaluate student performance on assignments such as homework, quizzes, tests, and papers


  • Usually multiple sections per week
  • Attend lectures and keep office hours (usually required)
  • Maintain accurate attendance and discussion grade records
  • Lead problem-solving sessions or discussions of primary literature, concepts, etc.
  • Evaluate student performance in homework, discussion section quizzes, and lecture exams

In addition to your primary teaching assignment, your teaching duties may also include the following:

Office Hours

  • Number of office hours required per week will be determined by the faculty supervisor, but is usually at least 2 hours per week
  • Consistent and prompt attendance at your own office hours
  • Time and place convenient to most of your students (e.g., not 8 AM Monday)
  • Give undivided attention to students during office hours
  • Help students arrive at the answers to their questions themselves instead of giving them the answers


  • Number of proctor sessions required is determined by the faculty supervisor based upon the class size
  • Always arrive at least 10 minutes early to lecture exams
  • Assist faculty member in distributing and collecting exams
  • Check BU IDs when students return completed exams if faculty supervisor sets this as policy
  • Vigilantly watch students throughout exam for wandering eyes and use of inappropriate materials
  • Make sure students put all course materials away during the exam
  • Inform faculty member immediately of suspicious or inappropriate exam behavior

Why Should Graduate Students Teach?

Adapted from Marilla Svinicki (1995). “A Dozen Reasons Why We Should Prepare Graduate Students to Teach.” Journal of Graduate Teaching Assistant Development 3 (1): 5–8

Benefits for the Graduate Student

The skills you learn as a teacher are transferable skills because they will help you in other academic and professional tasks.

Time-management and multi-tasking. Assignments need to be graded, e-mails need to be answered, and lessons need to be planned and prepared. These teaching duties take time away from your research and your classes, yet you are expected to do them all well.

Public-speaking. Teaching will build your self-confidence in giving professional presentations at conferences, at committee meetings, and at qualifying and exit exams. Even if you do not remain an academic for life, many organizations will expect you to give presentations.

Managing personnel. You will gain experience in actively monitoring and assessing the progress of your students as they perform classroom activities. Learning to be a good mentor now can help you professionally because many post-secondary degree holders are responsible for the duties of other people.

Benefits for the Department

There are many classes in the department where professors need help in areas such as lecture, discussion, and laboratory. Teaching duties might include the following:

  • Grading
  • Setting up demonstrations
  • Photocopying and distributing handouts
  • Setting up audio-visual devices or computer projection
  • Participating in or leading a discussion
  • Assisting in or leading laboratory exercises
  • Answering student questions during office hours

Typically, you may have at least three to four more years of experience in the field than your students do; therefore, you can easily impart your enthusiasm to them. You may be responsible for the grades of a small subset (possibly 30–50) of students in the major. Undergraduates in smaller classes taught by graduate students will have more personal interactions with people actively working in the field.

Benefits for the University

Students at a very large university can feel overwhelmed or lost as they become “little fish in a big pond.” As a graduate student teaching generally smaller classes, you are an important contact point for your students; they look up to you and you can make the university community feel smaller and more intimate. Also, students will tend to be more engaged in their coursework if they believe someone is interested in their performance—positive interactions with you can greatly improve their overall satisfaction.

Behaviors of good teachers

Adapted from the American Association of Higher Education Bulletin, 1987

Encourage high expectations

  • Set challenging goals for learning
  • Make expectations clear both orally and in writing
  • Set consequences for non-completion of work
  • Encourage students to write and speak well
  • Discuss progress of class
  • Communicate importance of high academic standards

Encourage cooperation among students

  • Ask students to explain difficult concepts to each other
  • Inquire into students’ interests and backgrounds
  • Encourage students to prepare together for class
  • Allow students to critique each other’s work
  • Create study groups and project teams

Emphasize timeliness

  • Expect students to complete assignments promptly
  • Estimate and communicate the amount of time to be spent on tasks
  • Encourage rehearsal of oral presentations
  • Encourage steady work and sensible time management

Give prompt feedback

  • Provide sufficient opportunities for assessment
  • Prepare classroom activities (e.g., active learning exercises) that give immediate feedback
  • Return graded assignments within one week
  • Give detailed evaluations of work starting early in the term
  • Give a pre-test at the beginning of the course to assess students’ background in the subject Encourage student-instructor contact
  • Adopt a demeanor that communicates that you are approachable
  • Welcome students to drop by your office Respect diverse talents and ways of learning
  • Encourage students to interject when they don’t understand
  • Discourage silliness, sarcasm, vulgar language, and verbal attacks aimed at you or fellow students
  • Use diverse teaching activities Encourage active learning
  • Ask students to present work to the class
  • Ask students to relate outside events to class material
  • Give students real-life situations to analyze
  • Use simulations and role-playing in class
  • Encourage students to challenge course material

How can you ensure a positive graduate teaching experience?

Be professional

  • Be attentive to deadlines
  • Use professional language in all communications, written and verbal
  • Be friendly to (but not friends with) your students
  • Be critical but fair in evaluating student work
  • Grades should distinguish among different levels of quality
  • Refrain from sharing personal problems with your students; however, if these issues interfere with your work, you should make your faculty supervisor aware of the situation

Be positive

  • Use positive reinforcement to motivate students: praise correct or interesting responses and create incentives rather than penalties
  • Encourage students to think that they can understand all the material; refrain from blaming students for their lack of understanding; ask students what aspect is difficult to understand and try a different explanation
  • Communicate effectively and regularly with your students, the administrative staff, and the faculty supervisor

Be on time

  • Return papers in a timely manner
  • Arrive to class early to prepare
  • Start and finish class on time
  • Check e-mail regularly and reply to it promptly, even simply to state that you received the e-mail but will need more time for a complete reply

Be prepared

  • Participate in all preparatory sessions arranged by your department or faculty supervisor
  • Read and understand the course materials ahead of the preparatory session
  • Perform labs or demonstrations yourself during preparatory session
  • Find out in advance how to set up audio-visual devices and other equipment
  • Think through all possible problems that could happen in your class
  • Get advice from your faculty supervisor and other TFs on common student concerns and problems that may arise. Consult with a fellow graduate student who has experience serving as a TF in the same course
  • Complete student assignments yourself without using the answer key; outline paper assignments ahead of time
  • Decide upon your grading criteria before the assignment is due and inform students of the criteria

Be organized

  • Keep accurate records of student grades, attendance, and e-mail communication
  • Make hard copies of grades to guard against a disk failure
  • Provide an outline of the class plan at the beginning of class
  • Make clear the objectives of the class
  • Keep students’ papers in a safe place
  • Store e-mails to/from students in a separate folder for the class