Carnegie Mellon University
Teaching Assignments

Teaching Assignments

Regular Academic Year

For any given semester, e.g., Fall 2014, we must decide on what courses we will actually offer fairly early in the prior one, e.g., Spring 2014. Existing students register online for those courses (in April for the Fall and in November for the Spring), and we receive tentative enrollment figures soon thereafter. Based on these enrollment figures and the number of available graders/TAs, we decide the list of courses that will get graders and TAs. (TAs are students who grade and lead a recitation section for the course.) We will then send out this list (usually in late November for the spring or in June for the fall), and inquire of the students which courses they would like to be assigned to, and of the instructors which students they would like to have as TAs or graders. Soon thereafter we will circulate a proposal for TA/Grader assignments. It is important to be clear that TA/Grader duties are a paid job in service of providing excellent undergraduate courses. The criteria for making assignments, in order, is:

  1. Optimizing the educational experience of the undergraduates.
  2. Preparing our graduate students for teaching.
  3. Optimizing the preferences of the students and professors.

After a few rounds of swapping people around to accommodate preferences while ensuring the best educational outcome, we will settle on an assignment for the upcoming semester. After this assignment is made, you should communicate directly with the instructor for whom you are grading or TAing.

Our introductory Philosophy course, 80-100, is somewhat special. We typically teach 3 separate lectures of 60 students each, where each section has its own 50-minute lecture on Mondays and Wednesdays, and splits up into 4 smaller 50 minute recitation sections, led by a TA, on Friday (1 TA for every 2 sections). The lecturing is usually handled by regular faculty, visitors, or senior graduate students who have been a TA for the course several times and have taught it during the summer; and the TAing by Ph.D. students or Master’s students who have a good background in general philosophy. Mara Harrell usually coordinates all lectures so they are all roughly covering the same body of material.

Beginning in AY 2010-11, we will begin to have other courses, such as 80-180 and 80-150, have TAs (instead of Graders) who will be responsible for grading and leading a discussion section.

There are other courses besides 80-100 for which we occasionally will allow a graduate student full responsibility for the course. For example, we have often had graduate students teach 80-110, the Nature of Mathematical Reasoning. Lecture assignments are made on the basis of intellectual maturity, dedication to teaching, and seniority. Clearly, teaching your own course is an important piece of a teaching portfolio, and the department strongly encourages you to gain the experience necessary to be allowed full responsibility for one or more courses.

Summer Teaching

Carnegie Mellon offers two summer sessions of classes. The first usually begins the Monday after commencement (around the third weekend in May) and goes through the end of June, and the second begins with July and proceeds through the first week in August. The Philosophy department usually offers 3-4 100 or 200 level courses during each session, and these courses usually enroll between 2-15 students, some of whom are in advanced High School programs. They meet every day of the week, and are thus compact and quite intense. These courses are taught only by graduate students, by default only those who have graded or been a TA for that course at least twice previously. And, occasionally, a summer course warrants a TA or grader. If you believe you can teach the course effectively having not been a grader or TA twice previously, you may make a case in writing to us and, if we are willing, do so nevertheless.

We decide on our offerings in late February, and at the same time send a list of these courses to you and ask if you would like to teach one of them and in which session. We make assignments by the end of April. Summer classes are not guaranteed to even take place unless they enroll at least 3 people.