The Teaching Assistantship: Get Paid to Learn to Teach
There's just no way around it: graduate school comes with a hefty price tag. And, if you're like most students, the idea of taking out a loan and going deep into debt doesn't sound too great either. Luckily, there are opportunities available which let students work in exchange for tuition. Of these opportunities, the teaching assistantship is among the most valuable, for several reasons.
The specifics for teaching assistantships vary by institution and program, but teaching assistants (TAs) are usually given a stipend or a tuition remission (and sometimes both) in exchange for their services. TAs may be given free tuition, and/or a stipend typically valued anywhere from $6,000 to $20,000 a year. In some cases, a TA may even receive benefits such as health insurance from the university.
The Bigger Picture
Of course the monetary value of the teaching assistantship is incredibly important, but it's only one piece of the puzzle. As a TA, you'd basically be getting paid to go to school and further your studies. Not only that, you'd be learning how to teach the basic concepts of your field. Teaching is, in many ways, the most effective way to learn something. By learning to communicate and articulate the ideas and methods of your discipline, you'll strengthen your own comprehension and mastery. This is a priceless opportunity in itself. Additionally, by teaching classes at your university, you'll have many opportunities to work closely with the other professors and instructors in your department. This is a great way to network and build meaningful connections in your chosen field. The faculty of your department are invaluable resources. They have a wealth of professional connections, and years of experience which you can draw from. By establishing a positive relationship with your professors, you'll be well-positioned to take advantage of these connections, and you may even get a nice letter of recommendation out of it.
The duties of a TA typically include teaching lower-level courses and/or assisting professors with course sections. TAs also grade undergraduate students' exams and papers, run laboratory sessions, and conduct study/review sessions. TAs generally must hold regular office hours, and meet with students during those hours.
These duties usually amount to roughly 20 hours a week. When compared to the alternatives for paying for graduate school, this is pretty reasonable.
All in all, a teaching assistantship is a great opportunity. Not only does it fund--at least in part--your graduate education, it also provides valuable work experience for those who hope to pursue teaching as a career. It's a great way to establish constructive relationships with your professors, strengthen your mastery over your own field of study, and develop leadership skills.