Profs and grad students team teach

For the second consecutive year, interest in a new program that allows graduate students and professors to team teach undergraduate courses is on the rise.

Since the Associates in Teaching Program started during the 2009-’10 academic year, the number of courses it offers has doubled to 12 this year. As of Tuesday evening, the program had received 16 applications from teams of professors and graduate students hoping to teach together next year, said Director of the Graduate Teaching Center Bill Rando, and he expected to receive several more by Wednesday.

The program accepts only one course application per department, Rando said, to “spread around” the opportunity. He added that the policy could change in future years. Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard said he hopes to accept at least 12 proposals, but the exact number will depend on the quality of the applications and the amount of funds available.

“The teams that are proposing courses seem to be using the partnerships as an opportunity to offer really unique courses that neither the teacher or graduate students could offer themselves,” Rando said, “something that is fresh for the curriculum and an experience for undergraduates that isn’t available otherwise.”

Rando said allowing graduate students to gain experience designing courses is the primary motivation behind the project. Lecturing or leading a seminar is more valuable than teaching a section, he said.

Graduate students who have taught in the program said creating a course with a seasoned professor has helped them to grow as instructors.

“It’s a great preparation for any graduate student who aspires to a teaching career,” said philosophy student Markus Labude GRD ’11, who taught “Ethics and International Affairs” in the fall of 2009 with philosophy and political science professor Thomas Pogge.

Matthew Lindauer GRD ’11, a philosophy student who has applied to teach a course through the program this year, said Labude’s positive experience in the program motivated him to apply. He applied to teach a modified version of “Ethics and International Affairs” with Pogge next year.

The program also attracts professors who want assistance developing a syllabus. History professor Dan Kevles is teaching “Technology in America” this semester with Brendan Matz GRD ’11, a history student. Kevles said he had wanted to teach a course on the topic for many years, but he had feared that he did not have enough time to devote to designing the course.

“Designing courses is a time-consuming, and being able to do it with graduate student is a plus, both intellectually and in terms of the amount of work,” he said.

Kevles said that in addition helping with his workload, Matz added readings to the syllabus that he would never have thought to include. Emily Greenwood, a classics professor that is teaching “Eros and Amor in the Classic Tradition” with classics student Caroline Stark GRD ’11, said teaching with an additional instructor elevates the level of discussion in the classroom.

“I’m taken aback by how someone else looking at the same text can open up discussion in different ways,” she said.

Jon Butler, who reviewed the program as dean of the graduate school before he stepped down last spring, said he found positive responses from undergraduates in addition to professors and graduate students. Yale College students reported that the interchange between the two instructors added to the “intellectual excitement” of the course, he said.

All five students interviewed echoed Butler’s findings.

“I really like the tag-team action that they have in the classroom,” said David Lindsey ’12, who is enrolled in Greenwood and Stark’s classics course. “Between the two of them they can answer virtually any question on the subject material. There should definitely be more classes like this one.”

But William Stone ’12, who is taking the same course, said he can see how such a teaching system could go wrong if the graduate student teacher were less “enthusiastic” than Stark, especially since graduate students have less experience than professors. All told, Stone said, he has enjoyed learning from the two teachers this semester.

“Caroline has taught us quite a bit, but I’m sure that this experience is comparatively more valuable to her since it’s a considerably more serious teaching job than being a normal TA,” he said.

Graduate students must teach for two semesters as teaching assistants before they begin teaching a course through the program.

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