Better Understanding Your Teaching Assistant and Teaching Fellow Forms (TAF/TFF)

Christo Aivalis, Chief Steward, PSAC 901

chiefsteward@psac901.org

Starting in the fall term, all TA and TF contracts across the university will have to be negotiated using the Teaching Assistant and Teaching Fellow Forms, which can be found electronically in  Excel Format at the following URL:

http://www.queensu.ca/provost/faculty/psac/templates.html

Familiarizing yourself with the forms before meeting with your employment supervisor is important as to better understand the document, what it entails, and to pinpoint any questions or concerns you may have.

While basic elements of a contract, including start dates, end dates, pay rate, number of assigned hours, and course are outlined in your E-contract, how the job itself is structured depends greatly on how you and your employment supervisor fill out these forms. To ensure that you better understand the forms, and to help make sure the work you do is recognized, the following write-up gives some quick info, tips, and examples.

Teaching Assistant Form (TAF)

Since section A is mostly biographical, and is filled out be the department of employment, we can skip to section B. In the right column we see various activities, a corresponding check-list, and the number of hours associated with a given task. In the left column, tasks can be briefly explained.  Tasks are divided according to the nature of work, from direct contact with students, to evaluating their performance, to miscellaneous tasks. At the end of section B, the hours are added up, and that number must equal the number of hours you were assigned to work for the contract. The total number of hours is not usually negotiated, and is usually decided before you and the employment supervisor discuss the structure of your contract.

For TAs, the employment supervisor is usually the class professor, unless that person happens to be a Teaching Fellow. In those cases, it will be a member of the departmental administration, usually the chair, grad coordinator, or TA coordinator.

Even though the employment supervisor decides how you will assist them according to their needs and the particulars of the course (you may have to attend lectures, lead tutorials, handle student emails, or just mark) your input is valuable to both the professor and yourself.  Not only will it help make sure you don’t work more hours than you are paid for, the employment supervisor can also better manage the valuable time and labour you supply them. The form should usually be filled out by both you and the employment supervisor.  You should not simply sign a form they have previously completed without offering your input and airing your concerns.

Before you go into your meeting to fill out the TAF, think about each category, and just how much time it would take to complete certain tasks. Below is a short list of categories that some TAs and supervisors often forget to include, which basically makes you work harder without extra compensation:

Contact with Employment Supervisor:

·         Meetings with this individual should obviously be included in the hourly total, but don’t forget to count the meeting that sets up the contract itself. It usually takes less than an hour, but because it’s a required aspect of your job, it’s meant to be counted.

·         Accounting for emails is not only something you do with students. In many cases, your contact with the supervisor is via email, relating to marking instructions, questions, sensitive student issues, etc… This usually adds up to a couple hours a term, so be sure to suggest this when filling out the TAF.

Contact with Students:

·         While many categories explain themselves, be sure to think about each one and if your job duties require it. While things like office hours are more easily accounted for, email correspondence is something people underestimate. Be sure to discuss how emails take up a decent chunk of time, especially when dealing with sensitive issues like disputed grades, extension requests, and students’ personal matters.

Marking and Grading

·         While it’s included on this list, the most overlooked entry in this category are administrative functions. While many remember to count proctoring exams, they sometimes forget to give time to organize results into programs like Moodle or onto Excel Spreadsheets. This work takes hours, especially with larger classes and if you  need to analyze grades statistically (bell curving, standard deviations, etc…)

Other Duties

·         While all of these tasks are important, and often forgotten by supervisors and TAs, some can be expanded upon. Preparation time covers many things often overlooked, one key example being preparatory reading. If you have to mark book reviews and you have yet to read that book, you should be given hours to do so. If a test you’re marking requires that students reference specific articles, the same should apply. If you need to teach students how to use a computer program or a piece of lab equipment and need to learn it yourself, you should be given hours/training for that as well.

·         Employer Required Training can entail different tasks depending on department and class. If your department has its own training session, or requires you to go to university-wide training, these hours should be recorded. If you require training specific to a certain laboratory or administrative system, this should be recorded as well. The same is true in cases where individual course supervisors hold training sessions to explain their marking standards and requirements.

The most important thing is to consider is all the important ways in which you perform your job as a TA, and they ways in which it often goes unrecognized. Most supervisors simply forget about some of these tasks, so reminding them is all it takes to put it on the TAF. If there are serious issues however, and you feel that you are being forced to do work not counted on your sheet, or expected to complete tasks too quickly, you should not hesitate to contact your departmental steward or 901’s chief steward, Christo Aivalis.

Ways in Which the Hours Breakdown Can be Changed

After section B, there is an important paragraph making reference to Article 16.07 (g) in “hours of work” and Article 12.03 in “appointments.”  These two sections affect you and your Teaching Assistant Form in the following ways.

Hours of Work 16.07 (g)

The spirit of 16.07 g is that sometimes changes are needed to the breakdown of hours on the TAF. This is often due to a certain task requiring more hours than expected; in such a case, your supervisor may ask you to cut back on that task so you will have sufficient time for projects later in the term. They may also lower hours on future tasks to ensure that you stay within the limits of the contract. 16.07 g also allows YOU to suggest changes to your contract along similar lines. Essentially, changes to section B of the TAF should be subject to open and equal dialogue between the TA and employment supervisor.

Basically, you and your employment supervisor should meet at around the mid-point of the term to make sure that the contract structure is working as intended. If changes need to be made, you and the supervisor can re-visit section B of the TAF and reallocate hours. to ensure that work gets done and that you don’t do extra hours. The tasks you are assigned should be completable within the time listed on the TAF. You should not work more hours than what your contract stipulates.

Section .07 g does NOT allow the employer to change the total amount hours in the contract; If the employment supervisor wants to give you additional hours beyond those stipulated, they need to offer you a new Teaching Assistant Form as per “hours of work” 16.07 h. You do NOT have to accept these extra hours of work if you do not want them, although accepting them will result in additional pay.  They cannot cut your hours either. If you have a 100 hour contract, and you only work 90 by the end of the term, you are still paid the full amount.

The employer can only cancel a TAship under stipulations in “Appointments” Article 12.06.  In those cases, you will be paid for all the work you had done to that point, and will be first in line for any unanticipated TAships that arise in accordance with “Appointments” Article 12.07.

Appointments 12.03

This section addresses two important issues. 12.03 (b) is relatively straightforward, as it accounts for situations where your scheduled work as a student (class/seminar times) conflicts with scheduled work as a teaching assistant. For example, if an employment supervisor wants you to attend lectures for the class you are TA’ing, and those lectures are at the same time as your own graduate seminar, they should make a reasonable effort to structure your work. They make give you more marking assignments to make up for your inability to attend lectures.

12.03 (a) deals with situations where a TA holds a fundamental disagreement with the work assigned based on a personal, academic, or religious belief. If you are assigned work that fits this description, you can notify your employment supervisor upon assignment and they must make reasonable efforts to accommodate you through work that does not conflict these beliefs.

Finally, and this is extremely important, the last paragraph on this second page outlines the basic ways in which a TA can and cannot exercise academic freedom. Because TAs generally lack the independence of most TFs, the extent of academic freedom is narrower.

Essentially, TA freedom gives you the right to complete your assigned work with reasonable discretion, as long as it is within the course objectives and guidelines set by the employment supervisor. Here are some of the limitations, unless explicitly permitted by your employment supervisor:

·          You cannot override an instructor’s marking guidelines or rubrics.

·       You cannot unilaterally decide to add or remove required readings or assignments as outlined in the class syllabus or instructor’s directions.

·         Nor can you ignore content the instructor asked you to teach or acknowledge when evaluating work.

In the end, the class instructor has the right to determine the curriculum, readings, assignments, and evaluation guidelines. You have the right to teach and mark material as you see fit, as long as it respects her or his guidelines.

Teaching Fellow Form (TFF)

The TFF Section A is different for one key reason. While the TAF specifies the TOTAL amount of hours to be worked in the contract, this form only specifies the number of scheduled teaching hours to be worked. For most contracts, this will amount to three hours a week.

In cases where you have more than three hours of scheduled teaching a week, you are entitled to a 10% bonus on your pay rate per extra weekly hour. A common example is when a TF is asked to lead a lab or tutorial for their class in addition to the three weekly lecture hours.

Section B

This section is similar to that found on the TAF. The negotiation of these tasks will take place between the Teaching Fellow and the employment supervisor, who is usually the department chair or graduate coordinator; inquire with the department of employment to be sure.  In some cases, TFs are not the lead instructor, but rather run tutorials and sections under the authority of a professor. In these cases, the employment supervisor may be the professor of the class.

The negotiation of these duties is important, but no hours are listed because TFs are paid a rate based on the entire course. The section B checklist will serve as a guideline that helps you and the supervisor determine the overall tasks for the class.  In classes where you are the instructor, you will have control over how these tasks are completed. When you answer to a professor, you will still have to adhere to their general guidelines.

Academic Freedom, Discretion, changes to the TFF, and cancellation of contract

The situation TFs face regarding academic freedom shares both similarities and differences with TAs. Like TAs, TFs can ask the employer to assign them different work in cases where their current assignment conflicts with personal, religious, or academic beliefs; the employer must make a reasonable effort to accommodate the request. The extent of TF academic freedom depends on if they have responsibility to develop the content and/or presentation of a course. Below are a few couple situations TFs face and how they relate to academic freedom:

·         If the TF is the lead instructor in a class, they have the widest level of academic freedom. While they must still respect the general regulations, guidelines, and policies of the university/department, and must complete tasks set out in their TFF, their level of freedom is at the same level as other teaching staff, including tenure-track professors.

·         There are some TFs who are responsible for sections of a given class, but are given the right to craft assignments, evaluation schemes, and other factors. An example could be a class where all students write the same final exam, and do the same readings, but the essay topics and guidelines are determined by each TF. In these cases, the TF would have a higher level of academic freedom on work they design and assign. The rest of the work would be handled in much the same way a TA does. Some of these TFs have a high degree of discretion and freedom, while others less so. If you have any questions speak to both the employment supervisor and Christo Aivalis.

According to “Hours of Work” Article 16.10 (h), the employment supervisor or the TF can request that section B be revisited should there be issues.

If a TFship is cancelled because the course itself is cancelled, you will be entitled to the following compensation models:

·         15% of the contract salary if the class is cancelled within the first two weeks of the academic term.

·          An additional 7% for every full or partial week you teach after those first two weeks.

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