Programs of graduate study have been established at Northern Michigan University to assist the students in gaining advanced knowledge within a chosen discipline and to facilitate the transformation from the role of student to that of professional scholar. Graduate assistantships attract good students. The primary role of the graduate assistantship is to facilitate progress toward completion of the graduate degree, while receiving valuable professional training. The graduate assistant is expected to make progress toward degree completion, while he or she also receives professional work experience under the supervision of a faculty mentor. Graduate assistants are expected to carry out responsibilities greater than those of other graduate students, but the opportunities for professional development are substantial.
Graduate assistants must perform well academically to retain their assistantship. As they develop their professional skills, assistants will receive regular counseling and evaluation by a faculty mentor. As employees of Northern Michigan University, graduate assistants must meet teaching, research and/or administrative obligations. They also must work under the supervision of experienced faculty/staff and receive in-service training for assigned duties.
An applicant must:
Once appointed, the graduate assistant must:
NOTE: Graduate Assistants in the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program must enroll in at least one credit during the summer semester.
Duties of a graduate assistant are designed to complement the student’s graduate program and to advance the program of the assigning department. Duties assigned to the graduate assistant are subject to approval by the Assistant Provost of Graduate Education and Research.
The workload of a graduate assistant consists of up to 20 hours per week during the fall and winter semesters. These 20 hours should include time for preparing materials used in the classroom, teaching, office hours, planning activities and research assignments.
Graduate assistants are salaried employees of the university. Their pay dates begin the first pay day of the fall semester and end at the conclusion of the winter semester. As salaried employees, they have the same days off that faculty have during the year, which include holidays and semester breaks.
Typical duties and responsibilities of graduate assistants may include:
Stipends for graduate assistants have been standardized for full-time appointments. Some part-time assignments may be available and will vary depending upon assignment. Salary and tuition reduction fees are stated in both the contract and the job description for each position. Amounts for each year will be identified, but may vary between departments.
Graduate Assistants normally receive tuition scholarships for graduate level credits for the period of time that they are appointed. Full appointments allow up to 16 credit hours of tuition scholarship per academic year. To qualify for the tuition scholarship, Graduate Assistants must be enrolled in at least 6 graduate level credits in each of the fall and winter semesters. The tuition scholarship can be split unevenly between the semesters (for example, 6 credits in the fall, 8 in the winter, and 2 in the summer). The scholarship will adjust automatically for 6 – 8 credits. The student must contact the Financial Aid Office if requesting more than 8 credits of tuition scholarship in a particular semester. Graduate Assistants may receive the tuition scholarship for a maximum of 32 credits, except for MFA candidates, who are eligible for up to 48 credits of Tuition Scholarship. The Tuition Scholarship normally covers tuition charges, the University fee, Student Activities fee, and the laptop fee, when applicable.
One semester appointments allow up to a maximum of 8 credit hours of tuition scholarship.
For the purpose of tuition charges, Graduate Assistants are considered residents of Michigan. The Graduate Assistant Tuition Scholarship is a tuition-specific award and adjustments may be necessary for students receiving other tuition-specific scholarships, awards, or benefits. The total of all tuition assistance programs that the student receives may not exceed the actual tuition/fees cost of NMU. A student receiving other tuition/fee sensitive awards, such as Chapter 33-Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, Army Continuing Education System [ACES], Indian Tuition Waivers, NMU Faculty Staff Tuition Waivers, Police Academy Scholarship, etc. will receive the combined awards up to the total tuition and fees. If this situation should occur, the amount of Graduate Assistant Tuition Scholarship may be reduced.
Graduate assistants may elect to use part of their tuition waivers from their current appointment to pay for summer graduate level credits. The maximum that can be “carried-over” is two credit hours from each semester, since the student must remain enrolled in at least six credits each semester of the academic year to be eligible for their assistantship. At the conclusion of the winter semester, the Office of Graduate Education will prepare a list of all graduate assistants who have unused credits leftover from the academic year, and submit this list to Student Services and the Financial Aid Office. The Financial Aid Office will put the tuition stipend on the student's record, as long as the student is registered for the credits. Failure to enroll in the approved summer credit hours by June 1 will result in forfeiture of the credit waiver. All credits paid for under this tuition waiver must be required graduate program credits.
Graduate assistants who enroll in summer session course work under this policy must complete all work assigned to their graduate assistantship by the end of the winter semester.
During their graduate career at Northern Michigan University, some students will conduct research as a part of their thesis work. Students conducting experiments involving human subjects must complete a Human Subjects Research Review Committee (HSRRC) application prior to beginning the research. The student cannot proceed with that research project until they have received approval from the HSRRC. Similarly, graduate students who conduct research involving vertebrate animals must submit an application to the Northern Michigan University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) prior to the conduct of their research, and must receive approval of the proposed project before beginning their research. Note that ALL graduate students who have utilized human or animal subjects in their thesis research project must submit a copy of the HSRRC or IACUC approval form with their thesis, or the thesis will not be approved by the dean of Graduate Studies and Research.
During the summer, graduate assistants who want to keep their laptop computer must be pre-registered for the fall semester. If the student fails to pre-register, he or she will be given the choice of either turning in the computer or paying the computer fee.
It is expected that graduate assistants will meet their assigned responsibilities in a professional manner. If for any reason they are ill or unable to carry out these responsibilities, they are expected to notify the faculty or staff mentor and the department head immediately. Appointed graduate assistants do not have the benefit of paid sick leave. If protracted periods of illness or absence exist, the department maintains the responsibility to make recommendations that the assistant withdraw from the assistantship so that your assigned responsibilities are met. Because the appointment to a graduate assistantship does not provide the individual with employment rights, missed time is expected to be made up at the discretion of the departments.
Departments hold disciplinary oversight for those assistants who do not meet assigned responsibilities. The dean of Graduate Studies will be notified by the appropriate department head when a graduate assistant fails to meet assigned responsibilities and can have input to the disciplinary process.
Four types of graduate assistantships are available at Northern Michigan University:
Responsibilities of research and administrative assistants will vary. Research and administrative assistants are assigned a faculty or staff member who will supervise the work done on a specific project. A full-time research or administrative assistant is expected to work 20 hours per week.
When research or administrative assistants first meet with their faculty or staff supervisor, outcomes that allow the student and the supervisor to evaluate project progress will be identified. Regular meetings to review progress will be held.
If the graduate assistant feels that the workload is too heavy or that they are working too many hours, or if there is some question about the direction the graduate assistant is to follow with his/her project, the matter should be discussed with the faculty or staff supervisor. If the problem is not satisfactorily reconciled, then the assistant should make an appointment with the appropriate department head. The graduate assistant may contact the dean of Graduate Studies if he or she remains uncomfortable or cannot resolve the conflict.
Teaching assistants have a different role within the university than other types of graduate assistants. The department is the primary resource for information regarding teaching expectations.
Teaching assistants are expected to complete their course work and to teach each week throughout the semester. Teaching assignments require approximately 20 hours of work each week. During this time, assistants will teach, hold office hours, attend departmental meetings, prepare for classes or labs and grade/evaluate student work. Some weeks, such as midterm and final exam week, may require more time; however, others will require less time. To maintain their assistantships, graduate assistants must achieve an overall 3.0 GPA.
Some teaching assistants act as liaisons between students and professors because their assignments require assisting a professor in teaching a large lecture class or taking over the class or lab. This means that the professor will have less contact with students and will rely upon the assistant to solve student problems and provide students with help. Depending on the specific situation, most assistants will have to handle these problems themselves; however, the teaching assistant may also consult with a mentor or faculty member. Recurring student concerns should be discussed with the professor.
Academic advising is the undergraduate adviser’s role. Teaching assistants should refer all students to their advisers or to the Undergraduate Bulletin for specific information concerning the completion of their degree programs.
Teaching assistants are expected to hold four office hours each week. Teaching assistants should include these hours in their syllabus and on their office doors. Without encouragement, many students will be reluctant to stop by an instructor’s office. Others visit only when they have problems in class or questions about the subject matter. It is important to make students feel at ease early in the semester or students may never take advantage of their teaching assistant’s office hours.
The following are strategies to help the teaching assistant use their office hours efficiently. When a student arrives, the teaching assistant should:
A student experiencing personal problems may visit his or her teaching assistant. Students with personal problems can greatly benefit from the services at the Counseling Center. The Counseling Center is staffed with trained professionals. Teaching assistants should take their students’ problems seriously, but they should never act as counselors. They must honor the trust that students place in them by keeping their conversations with students confidential.
Graduate Assistant-MFA (GA-MFA) students are selected by the English Department to work as teaching assistants for the Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing. These GA appointments differ from other NMU teaching assistant appointments because their contracts run for the full calendar year, and because their program of study is a three year program (as opposed to two years for master’s degree students). The following list outlines the differences between GA-MFAs and other GAs at NMU:
The university’s regulations regarding the protection of student records comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. This federal law was designed to protect the privacy of educational records, to establish the rights of students to inspect and review their educational records and to provide procedures for the correction of inaccurate or misleading data through informal and formal hearings.
To ensure student privacy, teaching assistants should adhere to the following guidelines:
Teaching assistants must keep careful records of all grading. This is important in determining final grades, and is crucial if a student files a grade grievance. If attendance contributes to the final grade, absences should be recorded in the grade book.
The Registration and Scheduling Office issues rosters for each class. Teaching assistants will receive their course rosters in their departmental mailboxes and/or electronically on the first day of classes. Each roster will contain the following information:
Updated rosters will be issued after the first week of classes. Final rosters are issued at the end of the semester for instructors to record final course grades. Final grades are submitted electronically.
Changing Class Schedule
During the first week of classes in the fall and winter semesters, students may add full-semester classes through the fourth day, provided seats are still available. Full-semester classes may be dropped through 5 p.m. of the ninth calendar day of the semester; no grade will be recorded on a student's transcript for courses dropped during this period. The add/drop period varies for classes meeting less than the full semester and during the summer session, depending on the length of the course. See "Tuition and Fees" section of the Undergraduate Bulletin for refund information for fall and winter semesters. Refer to the summer schedule for specific add/drop information.
Dropping a Class After the Add/Drop Period
Students dropping a full-semester class after the official add/drop period through the 10th week of the fall and winter semesters will be issued a "W" grade. Students dropping courses after the 10th week of class may receive "F" grades in these courses. Dates for withdrawing from a course not meeting for a full semester or for summer session courses will be prorated. These dates are published by the Registrar's Office at the beginning of each registration period. With documentation of the extenuating circumstances preventing a student from meeting the withdrawal deadline, exceptions to this policy may be made with the written approval of the Dean of Students Office. See "Tuition and Fees" section of the Undergraduate Bulletin for refund information.
Teaching assistants have the right to administratively drop a student after the first week of classes. An administrative drop is issued when a student fails to attend class for the entire first week, and the instructor removes that student from their roster.
Students often approach instructors during the first week of class seeking permission to attend a class. Teaching assistants should always check with their supervisors to review departmental policy prior to admitting additional students.
Students who do not perform well in class may choose to drop the course. Under certain circumstances, a teaching assistant may recommend that a student drop the class. For example, students who have not regularly attended class may be behind in their work, and it may be advisable that they drop the class rather than earn a low grade. Teaching assistants should consult with their faculty mentor prior to advising a student to drop the class.
As instructors, teaching assistants should be aware of the university’s official policy on sexual harassment, approved by the Board of Trustees, available at: http://www.nmu.edu/equalopportunity/node/2. The Human Resources Office also has copies of this policy.
Classes should be organized before the semester begins. When scheduling the class, teaching assistants should note any holidays on the academic calendar.
Teaching assistants should review the textbooks to see how much material needs to be covered, and then decide what to discuss for each unit of study. Once this has been arranged, tests, quizzes and major projects need to be included in the lesson plan. Many departments require that certain subjects be covered during the semester. When designing the syllabus and course in general, teaching assistants should pay close attention to those departmental standards.
When organizing the semester, teaching assistants must be realistic and practical. Evenly spacing major exams, papers and reports over the course of the semester gives students time to prepare for the next large assignment. It also gives the teaching assistant time to grade the projects before the next one is due. Students will become accustomed to the regularity of the assignments. Teaching assistants may find it helpful to contact an experienced graduate assistant and/or their mentors to make sure that the workload they have planned is realistic.
Writing the syllabus requires thinking through the entire semester. This can be challenging for a first-time teacher, but it will organize the course and give it direction throughout the semester. New teaching assistants may find it helpful to meet with their supervisor, mentor, or department head for guidelines regarding syllabus specifics. Also, most supervisors will provide new teaching assistants with sample syllabi for use as guides. Assistants are strongly advised to strictly adhere to the syllabus when teaching a class.
The syllabus should include the following information:
Teaching assistants should use the first class period to set the tone for the semester. The teaching assistant should be punctual, prepared, friendly and professional.
Since students often find themselves in the wrong room, many instructors find it helpful to write the following information on the board:
Teaching assistants should introduce themselves to their classes and tell students about their academic background. Graduate teaching assistants should let students know that they are assistants, rather than professors, and they should indicate how they would like to be addressed by the class.
Assistants should take roll using the roster, and ask students how they prefer to be addressed. Some students prefer not to be called by their legal names, so instructors should be courteous and honor their students’ requests (within reason). If a student’s name did not appear on the course roster, the teaching assistant needs to ensure that the student is in the correct class. Confirming that the student has properly registered is the student’s responsibility.
Each student must receive a copy of the syllabus. Teaching assistants should review it with their students, outlining important policies regarding late work, grading and class participation. Students need the opportunity to ask questions regarding the syllabus and the course in general.
Students assume that their instructors are knowledgeable about the discipline they teach. However, knowing everything is not a prerequisite for effective teaching. Sometimes students ask questions to which the teaching assistant does not know the answers. When that happens, the assistant should be honest and inform students that he or she does not know, but will respond to the question by the next class meeting.
Occasionally, a teaching assistant will make mistakes in class. Admitting those mistakes is important. If misinformation is given in class, the teaching assistant should correct the mistake as soon as possible.
Teaching assistants should consider developing some lesson plans that require their students to participate in group activities. In this case, the teacher becomes the group facilitator, clearly indicating the objectives of the activity and making a point to:
New teaching assistants may have questions about teaching and may want to talk to someone about their teaching style, lesson plans, tests and other concerns. Teaching assistants should establish a mentoring relationship with a faculty member or administrator in their department. Some departments require each teaching assistant to have a mentor. In the departments in which it is not required, it is good for teaching assistants to establish a mentoring relationship with a faculty member. Teaching assistants should find a faculty member they are comfortable with and ask that faculty member to be his or her mentor.
To teach effectively, teaching assistants must remember that not all students respond to the same teaching style. Research on student learning styles suggests that some students learn best from well-organized lectures, visual aids, direct application problems and computer instruction. Some students perform optimally with readings, theories, hypotheses and proofs, while others respond best to independent study situations, challenging exploration, open-ended problem solving and hands-on simulation activities. Some students work best in classrooms where audio-visual materials are used as supplements, where the instructor utilizes part of the class period for question and answer or discussion time and where the class period maximizes interpersonal communication.
The first task in organizing a lecture is topic selection. This includes setting parameters for the material. Teaching assistants must remember that students can retain only a certain amount of new information at one time. After deciding the lecture topic, the teaching assistant must define his or her purpose. Lectures should be clear and direct. Each component of the lecture should support an objective.
Several types of organizational strategies can be used when presenting information. Both cause/effect and problem/solution organizational styles are useful for persuasion presentations. Students sometimes need motivation to respond. A teaching assistant can do this by posing questions that require critical thinking, rather than merely asking the students if they have any questions.
As teaching assistants begin their presentations, they should explain their purpose. Beginning lectures with open-ended questions allows students to become involved with the information.
When explaining a process or procedure, teaching assistants should periodically check to ensure that students understand the information by asking questions. Teachers should try to avoid leading questions, so students freely draw their own conclusions.
Students may begin to pack their bags prematurely. To prevent this, most instructors can stop their lectures and remind the students that class time remains. Ignoring the interruptions early in the semester may lead to student disruptions for the remainder of the semester.
When preparing visual aids for class presentation, the teaching assistant should consider the following guidelines:
Discussions are often part of lectures. In small class sections, students need to get involved with the information being presented. To do this, teaching assistants can begin with open-ended questions and provide some information about the topic so the students begin to develop responses.
Discussion sections have four main purposes:
To address these objectives, teaching assistants should ask questions that probe for answers, illustrating the major objective of a session. Questioning students about related and current issues often aids instructors in generating discussions. Paying attention to students’ gestures can serve as an accurate guide to their interest in the subject matter.
When teachers allow students to respond to each other during the course of a discussion, the students often perpetuate the discussion themselves. Teachers who maintain eye contact with their groups, and occasionally paraphrase segments of the discussion, facilitate and direct their groups.
Sometimes, teaching assistants find themselves with a quiet class. The following are suggestions for combating this problem.
At the beginning of the semester, teaching assistants should make sure that they know what laboratory equipment is available, where the equipment is located and how to use it properly. Teaching assistants should meet with their supervising instructor to review the course material and to identify potential hazards with each experiment and to prepare instructions accordingly for their students.
When planning a lab, teaching assistants should:
During the lab, teaching assistants should circulate among students, answering questions and posing new ones. If a question arises that interests the rest of the class, teaching assistants should focus class attention on it to generate class discussions. In a laboratory setting, teaching assistants need to help students develop, experience and practice their own methods of problem solving. Small group work is an essential part of the lab experience. Having students cooperate in problem solving encourages them to turn to each other for further understanding. At the conclusion of the lab session, students often benefit from a discussion about the experiment. Their comments will not only open communication, but will also help the teaching assistant pinpoint areas that confuse students, giving them the opportunity to clarify misunderstandings. Remembering the principles of scientific inquiry may help the teaching assistant evaluate student work in the lab. The teaching assistant should consider the following:
Before evaluating students, teaching assistants should familiarize themselves with any departmental guidelines and/or expectations. Some departments have established criteria for grading. When teaching assistants return student work, they should announce to their classes the times when they will be available to answer individual student questions about their graded projects.
When evaluating student papers, some teaching assistants find it helpful to read the paper twice. The first time that they read it, they pay attention to content, organizational strategy and purpose. They make grammatical and conceptual comments during the second reading. Students may get discouraged if no positive comments appear on their papers. Comments at the end of the paper should address both successes and suggestions for improvement. Concise comments work effectively.
Quizzes address problems objectively, so it is important that students understand the purpose of the quizzes and the course content. Quizzes should address specific subject matter, experimental methodology and overall experimental intent. When returning corrected quizzes, teaching assistants should:
Students are often concerned about their grades and the methods used to determine them. Before teaching, the teaching assistant should have established guidelines for grading. They should be clearly listed in the course syllabus.
Some departments use standardized tests. Others ask that teaching assistants create their own exams. Teaching assistants should check with their department heads or supervisors so that they become familiar with their department’s testing policy. If their department does not offer testing guidelines, the assistants will have to find a testing method suitable for their classes. The most common types of tests are true-false, multiple choice, short answer, and essay.
Constructing fair tests can be difficult. Below are some guidelines that teaching assistants may follow to construct a fair test. Assistants should:
Teaching assistants must remain consistent while grading, especially when evaluating essay tests, lengthy lab reports and student papers. Reading through several tests before grading them can help the assistant develop a standard for grading all exams. Explaining the grading system to the class, both in the syllabus and during class, is an important task for the teaching assistant. Teaching assistants must take time to give written feedback on papers and exams. Grading in ink can help avoid academic dishonesty.
Final grades are due by noon on the Tuesday following graduation. Registration and Scheduling sends all instructors an e-mail message giving instructions about how to enter final grades on-line.
Departments on campus use various measurements to evaluate classroom teaching. Teaching assistants should check with their department head or supervisor about the evaluation method used in their departments.
At the end of each semester, students will be asked to conduct a written evaluation of the teaching assistant’s work as an instructor. This evaluation may be administered in person or online, depending on the departmental practices.
When distributing the evaluations, the teaching assistant should designate one student to gather the completed evaluations and deliver them to the department secretary. The instructor should make it clear to the students that the evaluation process is done anonymously, so that no individual student identification is possible. Instructors must leave the classroom while their students complete evaluations.
The evaluations may not be viewed until after final grades have been turned in to the Registration and Scheduling office. Student evaluations can be very important for teaching assistants who will pursue a career in academia, since they can be used as part of a teaching portfolio.
While there is no formal peer observation process on campus, input from other graduate and teaching assistants can be valuable. Teaching assistants can benefit from regular meetings. They may discuss difficulties they have encountered and class activities that have been successful.
A teaching assistant’s supervisor will monitor performance in the classroom by observing the class occasionally. The supervisor will then meet with the assistant to discuss any problems, and to give the teaching assistant recommendations on how to improve their teaching style. Some departments videotape performance in the classroom.