Should Graduate Students Be Allowed To Teach: A Reflection on Graduate Assistants as Instructors in Higher Education

While reading Goodlad's (1990) work Teachers for Our Nation's Schools, I came across the idea of graduate students being incompetent and incapable of teaching higher education courses. In fact the use of them belittles the reputation of the institution if students are concerned about the quality of the instruction that they receive while in higher education. Goodlad noted that this phenomenon is not necessarily the case in smaller, liberal arts colleges. Those courses are typically taught by professors. These colleges then should be revered for their work and other institutions scolded for their neglect. As I was reading, a question came to mind. If professors are the ones who are the more appropriate to teach, how then were they prepared to be so pedagogically adept? In fact, I can think of full professors who were not nearly as capable at teaching as some graduate students. There is no doubt that the professors bring more life experience and expertise in the content and possibly in the pedagogy than the graduate students, but if graduate students are not permitted to teach during their graduate studies, how then will they ever become competent teachers as professors? Surely the achievement of the diploma is not the sole signifier of teaching competence. At the same time, I think it is equally ignorant and neglectful to have graduate students act as the primary instructors without support. In my experience, I have taught both undergraduate and graduate coursework, but I did not do so alone, especially in my first years as a doctoral student. I was coached, apprenticed, and mentored with fellow faculty members and school-based practitioners into learning pedagogically sound teaching practices for adults. My background as an elementary teacher did contribute, but I truly feel that the support I received and still receive as I co-teach and solo-teach both undergraduate and graduate courses has been extremely beneficial in my development as a teacher educator. Institutions of higher education have an obligation to their students - all of their students - and that includes both undergraduate and graduate students. Undergraduate students deserve competent teachers, and graduate students deserve the opportunity to become competent teachers. A mechanism for satisfying both and debunking the perception of graduate student teaching incompetence is through intentional mentoring and apprenticeship opportunities through co-teaching experiences.

Goodlad, J. I. (1990). Teachers for our nation's schools. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.