How Can the Profession Overcome the Problem of Unqualified Graduate Assistants Teaching Basic Activity Courses in Higher Education?

JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, September 2009 | Go to article overview
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How Can the Profession Overcome the Problem of Unqualified Graduate Assistants Teaching Basic Activity Courses in Higher Education?


As an administrator in one of the largest activity programs (more than 25,000 students per year) in the country that relies heavily on graduate assistants (GAs) to teach, we have found that to make these individuals successful, excellent representatives of our program, we must take active ownership in preparing and guiding them to succeed. This process begins by identifying candidates (graduate students) who have at least basic skills and knowledge in the areas they will be teaching, based on information garnered from their application, resume, references, and occasionally, teaching auditions. Our GAs are then immersed in an in-depth Enhancement/Mentoring Program with one of our top-notch faculty members. The process begins pre-semester, continuing with intensive direction during the first semester as a GA, and continues throughout the first year with the Enhancement Instructor (EI) always available for consultation or direction, including providing notes, resources, sample exams, lesson plans, evaluation techniques, roll-taking options, and so on to the GA. In addition, the GA's teaching load is reduced during their first semester so they can observe one of their El's classes throughout the semester. The EI and GA meet regularly throughout the first semester while the EI also attends numerous class meetings of the GA to conduct written observations and feedback. The GA's students are also given the opportunity to provide anonymous feedback via the EI. Copies of all observations and feedback are provided to the GA and program administrators, thus allowing the department to be able to identify and address any problems or insufficiencies early in the GA's tenure. It is our philosophy that our GAs will only be as successful as the direction, motivation, and encouragement demonstrated and provided to them. This eliminates the need to overcome the problem of unqualified GAs in our program; we just don't let it happen in the first place!

--Melinda L. Grant, associate chair and associate instructional professor, Physical Education Activity Program, Department of Health and Kinesiology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX.

Many graduate assistants serve as instructors for undergraduate activity courses and as full-time graduate students. I think that having to be responsible for both of these duties can make successful teaching challenging, especially if graduate assistants continue their education immediately after finishing their undergraduate studies and acquire little or no actual teaching experience. Education department chairs need to institute inservice teacher development to ensure that graduate assistants are qualified to teach activity courses. Also, graduate assistants in an inservice program should be mentored by a master teacher before being given the responsibility to teach. I think activity courses are taken too lightly by undergraduates and also by the graduate assistants who are teaching them. I personally did not take activity courses seriously because they were often taught by graduate assistants who were not much older or more experienced than me. --Michael Slowik, elementary physical educator and graduate student, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV.

I do not know if there is a problem of unqualified graduate assistants teaching basic activity courses in higher education. What makes the graduate assistant unqualified? Is it their lack of experience in teaching or is it their lack of knowledge in the subject matter? If it is a lack of experience, then what makes them qualified to teach in the public schools? If it is a lack of knowledge, then this is their first opportunity to learn a new skill. I highly doubt that there have been any individuals in the profession who knew all the ins and outs of every activity. If there are unqualified graduate assistants teaching activity classes, then it is the responsibility of the institution to screen the individuals that will be teaching the activity courses to ensure that they have already received adequate undergraduate training or provide them the additional resources they need to be successful.

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