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Gradership Process at Penn English 

TA-ships and graderships are a longstanding part of the built-in forms of teaching opportunities the English department provides for our graduate students. This document aims to outline the procedures the English department uses for assigning graduate students to courses as graders and TAs. 

Grading and TA-ing in your Second Year:

First, on the issue of nomenclature: the distinction between being a TA and a grader. At Penn English, only the ENGL 8000 Pedagogy seminar is assigned TAs, i.e. the graduate students enrolled in ENGL 8000 Pedagogy (a required course in the second year) are the TAs in the Pedagogy faculty instructor’s large lecture course being offered that semester. They attend the MW lectures, run a Friday recitation section, and grade the written work of the students in their section following the guidelines of that semester’s instructor. A class without recitation sections would have a Grader, not a TA. Graders attend class, grade a portion of the written work, and may hold office hours. Second-year graders and TAs do not receive additional compensation for this work; this service is an integrated part of the Benjamin Franklin Fellowship package they receive upon being admitted into the Penn English graduate program.

Second:  who grades and when.  At Penn English, the second-year grad cohort is divided into two groups.  One group serves as TAs for the Pedagogy course in the Fall and grades for individual classes in the Spring. The other group does the reverse. 

How are second-year graders assigned to courses? After advance registration each semester (usually in mid-November and mid-April, respectively), the undergraduate office makes a list of courses that are large enough to justify a free grader but do not go over 40 (which would make that course eligible for a paid grader). As rule, we usually look for 20 and above, but this is an imperfect science. To be clear, because the second-year students are not paid, we do not have to observe the 40-student limit. This second-year gradership provides grads with teaching experience while also allowing them to work with a faculty instructor (to observe pedagogical practices, to experience from the instructor’s view how the various parts of a course are designed and articulated, to get to know a field/topic in more depth, etc). 

With our list of courses in hand, the undergraduate office writes to the faculty instructors on the list and asks if they would be willing to take on a grader.  The finalized list of courses is then sent to the second-year grads, who return with their top three choices. We then try to give them their first or second choice, and then approach the instructors to confirm the arrangement. Once approved, the students are notified and they then discuss details of the gradership with the instructors; reading list, the grading process, etc. Grading is meant to basically be split right down the middle, with faculty instructor and grader sharing equal load. Because second-year Graders are taking a full program of courses, it’s important to make their tasks limited and specific.  

Paid Graderships:  

Another category of graders is the group of advanced students (usually, but not always, ABD) who might, depending on that semester’s enrollments, be offered a list of larger courses for which they would be paid to serve as graders. The Dean’s Office, not the department, sets strict minimums on the size of classes that can have paid graders.  A course with 40 or more students can have one paid grader, a course with 60 or more can have two. Grads who would like to grade for a course must receive approval from their dissertation chair to be assigned as a grader during their dissertating years. Those interested in grading also have to make sure that the terms of their fellowship allow service work (e.g. some external fellowships do not allow service). The current stipend for this type of Grader is $3,300 (note that this amount is imposed by the College).

How we assign paid graderships: we depend on high enrollment numbers to assign paid graderships. We closely monitor the results of advance registration—for the upcoming Spring term, results come in around mid-to-late November; for the upcoming Fall term, results come in around early-to-mid April)—to determine which courses are eligible to have paid graders. With this course list in hand, the Grad Chair and the Undergrad Chair send out a call for applications to the grad listserv. We request:

  • a CV
  • a ranking of which courses they would like to grade for
  • very brief rationale for their choice and fitness for the role. 

In consultation with the instructors of the courses in question, we then make a final selection that meets everyone’s preferences and schedules. The Undergraduate Chair then sends out a hiring letter for the grad student to sign—this signed letter is then sent to the business office to arrange for payment ($3,300 per gradership). 

On occasion, a faculty member from a department or program other than English asks one of our graduate students to serve as their TA/grader for a course. The department is open to such arrangements, as long as the student obtains permission from their dissertation chair and from the Grad chair. Note that in such arrangements, the stipend for the TA/grader must come exclusively from the outside department/program (or individual resources) of the faculty member making the request.

Note: We ask faculty not to make private arrangements with students in advance.  Any exception can lead to inequity and discord among both faculty and graduate students. If a faculty member wishes to be assigned a specific grader, we ask that they first get in touch with the Executive Committee before approaching the grader in question so that a fair and transparent arrangement can be discussed. In turn, grads should also refrain from making private arrangements with faculty outside of the above process.

Compensation and Duties for English Department Graders:

Graders hired to assist with English Department courses are paid $3,300.00 per course. Graders’ working hours not exceed 15 hours per week, averaged across the full semester. This average includes not only time spent grading, but also class meetings, time on email, reading/prep time,administrative tasks, meetings with students and/or the professor, etc.

The specific duties of graders may include any of the following:

  • Attend all class meetings

  • Read all assigned material

  • Grade and comment on student assignments by the deadline set by the primary instructor (assignments to be evenly divided among instructor and grader; e.g. in a course with one grader, the assignments should be divided evenly between primary instructor and grader,while in a course with three graders and a professor the assignments would be evenly divided by four)

  • Hold office hours or review sessions to help students to prepare for papers, quizzes, exams, and other assignments or required material

  • Help write assignments, paper prompts, or exams

  • Help to administrate, set up, and maintain any online resources for the course

  • Keep track of attendance and grades

  • Lecture for all or part of a single class meeting

At the beginning of the semester, the primary instructor for a course should meet with all course graders to outline specific duties and expectations. If a professor needs his/her graders to perform duties not mentioned above, s/he must 1) ensure that these duties will not require graders to work more than 15 hours per week, averaged across the full semester; 2) clearly describe the duties to the  graders; 3) receive the graders’ agreement to take on these additional duties.