Instructional Support Staff

Hiring, Training, and Supervision of Instructional Support Staff

The teaching done by supervised instructional support staff is an important part of the undergraduate educational experience, as well as a critical aspect of the training of graduate students. Departments and individual instructors have developed successful strategies that encourage and ensure a high standard of instruction by teaching fellows, teaching assistants, and course assistants. These local strategies have been reinforced by guidelines developed by the Committee on Undergraduate Education and the Committee on Graduate Education and endorsed by the Faculty Council.

Categories of Instructional Support Staff

Teaching fellows are candidates for advanced degrees and are registered as students at Harvard, ordinarily in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS). They serve as section leaders, tutors, and laboratory leaders, but always under the supervision of instructors who hold Faculty-level teaching appointments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) or another Harvard Faculty. (See Responsibility for Evaluation for the appropriate role of teaching fellows in the grading of students.)

Teaching assistants engage in the same kinds of supervised instruction as teaching fellows but are not enrolled as candidates for an advanced degree in any department of the University. Ordinarily, teaching assistants will have received the AB before the appointment begins.

Undergraduate course assistants are currently registered Harvard undergraduates who, under the supervision of instructors who hold Faculty-level teaching appointments in the FAS or another Harvard Faculty, assume limited instructional responsibilities. Course assistants ordinarily assist only in mathematics, science, and computer science courses. (See Responsibility for Evaluation for the appropriate role of course assistants in the grading of students.)

In accordance with the Faculty’s own policy, course heads should appoint qualified GSAS students for teaching positions before hiring non-GSAS candidates.

Teaching Fellow Appointment Guidelines

The Committee on Graduate Education and the Faculty Council have adopted the following general guidelines for the Teaching Fellow appointment process in the humanities and social sciences:

1. Early Allocations of Sections: Each spring, on the basis of prior enrollment histories, the Office of Undergraduate Education (OUE) in Harvard College will pre-allocate course sections for eligible departmental courses for both terms of the coming academic year. Departments should then provide information on available teaching positions to eligible graduate students as early as possible. Please note that pre-allocated sections are not guaranteed (see below for more information on the possible reassignment of teaching fellows).

2. Application Period: Departments should accept applications for teaching fellow positions for several weeks to ensure the broadest possible applicant pool before a decision is made. To avoid financial inequities, final decisions should involve consultation between the course head and the Chair or Director of Graduate Studies, or other designated member of the Department or program.

3. Hiring Criteria and Timetable: The criteria for appointing teaching fellows should include an evaluation of each candidate’s preparation, English language proficiency, student graduate year, teaching experience, teaching guarantee (see note below), and satisfactory academic standing. Note in this regard that GSAS: 1) requires all incoming PhD students who are non-native speakers of English and who have received their undergraduate degrees from non-English speaking institutions to pass English proficiency tests before they can be appointed as teaching fellows, and; 2) prohibits graduate students who receive Dissertation Completion Fellowships from teaching as well as taking on concurrent employment. Further details on English language requirements and dissertation completion fellowships for teaching fellows may be found in the "Teaching" page of the GSAS website.

The following paragraphs detail the appointment process:

Each spring, the OUE will request that departments submit their enrollment estimates and course section requests for the coming academic year via an on-line section allocation tool. The OUE will make its pre-allocations directly in the tool. After the study card deadline, the section allocation tool will automatically display actual enrollment numbers, which the OUE will use to make adjustments to section allocations. For questions or further details about this process, contact the Office of Undergraduate Education (instruct@fas.harvard.edu).

Departments should make teaching fellow appointments by the end of the spring term for the coming academic year. Preference for teaching fellow appointments should be given to students to whom a guarantee of teaching was offered at admission (see note below); teaching preference is also usually given to students prior to the fifth year of residency.

After those students who are expected to teach as part of their funding packages have been accommodated, departments and course heads are expected to consider and prioritize all other qualified applicants from within GSAS; special attention should be paid to qualified applicants in their third or fourth year of residency from related departments and disciplines.

Written notification should be provided to each successful applicant making explicit the teaching assignment and the terms of the teaching appointment, as well as expectations for training and orientation. Applicants who are not appointed as teaching fellows should be informed in writing at the same time so that they can make alternative arrangements for financial support before the academic year begins. If a student who has been offered an appointment receives funding from another source or for other reasons declines the opportunity, that appointment may be offered to another GSAS student after direct consultation with GSAS, and in accordance with the priorities described above.

An important note on teaching "guarantees": As an integral part of their graduate funding packages, PhD students in the Humanities and Social Sciences during each of their third and fourth years of residency are ordinarily guaranteed two sections of teaching per term; meeting this guarantee should be seen as a cooperative endeavor between the student and the department.

Departments should reassign teaching fellows from a course that is under-enrolled to one that is over-subscribed, within certain limits. Reassignments should be made on the basis of the graduate student’s prior indication of courses or areas in which he or she is prepared to teach. Departments should offer reassignments in ways that will minimize the number of teaching fellows with multiple preparations. If no reassignment is possible, the financial commitment will be honored, even if no instructional support is needed in the course. In this case, the teaching fellow should perform meaningful work for the department or committee, preferably in support of undergraduate instruction. Such reassignment must be approved by the Office of Undergraduate Education (instruct@fas.harvard.edu).

Finally, be aware that immigration regulations limit the employment of international students to twenty hours per week while school is in session. This limitation also applies to teaching fellowships and research assistantships. Therefore, international students’ teaching cannot exceed .57 FTE time during each term.

For additional information about teaching fellow appointments, please refer to the "Teaching" page of the GSAS website.

Training and Supervision of Instructional Support Staff

A number of principles have been formulated to assist departments in the training and supervision of instructional support staff.

Departments should develop regular procedures for screening and training instructional support staff as well as routine methods of supervising and monitoring their performance. Not only do such practices help to maintain good standards, but they also encourage graduate students, in particular, to improve their teaching skills. Student teaching should be a rewarding opportunity rather than an automatic step in graduate education.

The Faculty Council has adopted the following guidelines for the training and preparation of first-time instructional support staff:

  1. All departments and instructional programs must develop plans for preparing and orienting first-time instructional support staff in the pedagogical skills that will allow them to fulfill their teaching obligations. Orientation in issues of appropriate professional conduct should also be provided. (See Professional Conduct.) These plans should be approved by the Office of Undergraduate Education. These plans should provide for practice teaching or other orientation to teaching methods at or before the start of the teaching appointment for those without prior teaching experience, and should also provide for the observation and appraisal of teaching performance. The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning has developed a wide range of instructional support and development programs for Harvard College’s classroom instructors. Departments are encouraged to have their new and experienced teaching fellows and instructional support staff utilize these resources. Detailed information about the Bok Center's resources and programs can be found at http://bokcenter.harvard.edu/resources.
  2. Individual course heads remain responsible for the orientation, preparation, oversight, and evaluation of assistants in the execution of their specific course responsibilities.

Instructional support staff should be provided with structured teaching assignments, with the recognition that section teaching is more effective the more the instructor is involved. Regular, perhaps weekly, meetings to review course material, visits by the instructor to sections, and the teaching of a section by the instructor can be helpful to instructional support staff. In certain departments, some or all of these forms of involvement are routinely expected. Departments may adjust the teaching credit given to Faculty members, if need be, to encourage their involvement in section teaching. The Office of Undergraduate Education’s “instructional lunch fund” is available to support weekly luncheon meetings with instructional support staff. The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning encourages instructors and instructional support staff to seek help in improving their teaching quality.

By vote of the Faculty on October 17, 1995, teaching fellows and other instructional support staff are expected to attend lectures of the courses in which they hold teaching appointments, unless in the judgment of the course head the nature of their work for the course does not depend upon their attendance at the lectures.

Departments should devise a record-keeping system on instructional support staff based on instructors’ reports on and observations of their performance. Such departmental monitoring can be used to reward outstanding teaching and to provide a solid basis upon which to recommend graduate students for future teaching jobs. At the same time, regular evaluation ensures that a poor teaching performance does not go unnoticed.

Student Compensation and Credit for Course Work

A student may not receive course credit for the same work for which he or she is financially compensated.

Graduate teaching fellows should not receive Reading and Research (300-level) or other course credit for the time they devote to teaching, but may have their teaching efforts recognized - and recorded - by signing up for TIME-T on their study cards. TIME is the term used by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences to designate independent study (TIME-C), research (TIME-R), or teaching (TIME-T). Graduate students "receive credit" for such pursuits in the sense that TIME activities appear on their GSAS transcripts; these entries, however, are not graded.

An undergraduate course assistant may not receive academic credit in any form, including Independent Study and Supervised Reading and Research course credit, for courses with which he or she is assisting. (Research for which a student receives a grant may inform their academic work. Research performed for other financial compensation may inform academic work in subsequent semesters only, and only with the express permission of the employer, including a laboratory head.)

Special Considerations Concerning the Appointment of Undergraduate Course Assistants

Because special considerations enter into the appointment of undergraduates as course assistants, instructors should observe the following guidelines when hiring and supervising course assistants:

  • Departments and committees that employ undergraduate course assistants should consult with the candidate’s Allston Burr Assistant Dean to confirm that the candidate has attained sophomore standing and has earned a cumulative GPA of 3.33 or higher. Departments may also wish to consult with the candidate’s Allston Burr Assistant Dean and academic adviser about the candidate’s ability to successfully balance the duties of the course assistant position with his or her other commitments.
  • Under faculty supervision, undergraduate course assistants may lead sections or problem-solving sessions and assume other limited instructional duties. Over the term, they may work an average of 10-12 hours per week. However, undergraduate course assistants may not take on administrative responsibilities for a course, such as those typically held by a head teaching fellow.
  • Under faculty supervision, undergraduate course assistants may evaluate other students’ assignments when the grading involves objective assessment, such as checking answers on a problem set. However, undergraduate course assistants may not grade other students’ work when that work requires subjective assessment, such as evaluating essays, written portions of examinations, or final projects.

Also, as undergraduates may fail to recognize the implications of serving in an instructional role, instructors should take special responsibility for initiating discussions about professional conduct, including the impropriety of amorous relationships with students and the importance of both equity and confidentiality.