TAs will soon discover that Rutgers undergraduates possess a wide range of writing skills. Some students will be fairly good writers, others competent ones, and still others less than competent. Although TAs may wish to assist their students in improving their writing skills, given the demands of teaching and graduate work, they will probably not be able to offer more than cursory assistance with these problems.
The quality of student writing, however, should be a concern of all instructors, not just those in the English Department. The student who is unable to write clearly will be at a disadvantage both in college and afterwards. In fact, an ability to express ideas coherently in both speech and writing can often determine the course of one's life. A. Bartlett Giamatti (the late President of Yale) has suggested that "all of us are what we say we are—that as individuals and as a people we define through language what we have been and what we will be, and that a group of people who cannot clearly and precisely speak and write will never be a genuine society."
This is not an overstatement. The problem of language deficiency, oral and written, is a troublesome one for our society as a whole. TAs who overlook their students' problems in writing are not doing them a favor. If the students do not receive the help they need here at the university, they probably will never receive it and both they and society will suffer.
Although virtually all students at Rutgers are required to take an introductory writing course—Expository Writing—some poor writers do slip through the cracks. TAs with such unprepared students in their classes will face problems when assigning essays or written exams because these students must often be given extra help before they can even begin to write. Students who are unable to shape a thesis statement or organize their ideas coherently will not be able to produce a readable essay, a problem for both teacher and student.
When should TAs get involved with student writing problems? A good standard by which to judge the writing is this: does the student's grammar, organization, or syntax interfere with a reader's understanding of the work? Do the enormous number of punctuation or spelling errors distract the reader from the content? Do the readers have to stretch their imagination to construct the meaning because the essay is so poorly written? The answers to these questions will determine your response to the student. If the problems are serious, it is the responsibility of the teacher to get help for that student.
The most effective way to deliver this assistance is by referring the student to one of the college writing centers. You may refer students informally, by suggesting in conversation that they would benefit from tutoring, or you can write a note to the students on their papers; more formally, you could complete one of the forms provided by the Writing Program Office to recommend students for tutoring. By filling out the form, you will be sure to receive reports from the tutor about the student's attendance and progress.
What should a teacher do about less serious problems, such as the student who does not understand one point, the use of possessives, for example, or who writes awkwardly but, in the end, coherently? It is always a good practice to note these errors on the student's paper so that he or she is aware of the fact that there is a problem. Once alerted to the problem, many students will speak to the teacher about it or seek help elsewhere. Of course, you may have to pressure some students to work on their writing problems, perhaps by discussing them when the student comes to your office during the semester. Be supportive and positive when you bring up the subject. If you can honestly do so, try to find a way of praising the students while correcting them: "You're too good a student to have these kinds of problems in your writing."
If, however, the students are already struggling in your course, you will probably not want to overwhelm them by criticizing grammar and style. Failure to communicate clearly, however, is often a failure to understand, so by focusing on the main problem—how they are going to pass your course—you may be on your way to solving these secondary (to your course, at least) ones.
Except in these drastic cases, however, the TA should be prepared to bring the problem to the student's attention, and, if needed, push the student into seeking the help necessary to overcome it. Sometimes just pointing out patterns of mistakes to students will motivate them to improve their skills. If a large number of students in your class make similar errors, you may want to discuss them briefly when you return papers or you may wish to recommend a good stylebook for all of the class at the beginning of the semester. Be sure to call attention to errors in writing in some way, because to ignore the problem is to reinforce it.
Although some TAs may at first protest that teaching writing is not their job, it should become obvious upon reflection that any improvement in a student's writing will also help to improve the student's performance in the course.
The non-traditional student, often an older student with a career or a family, or both, has become a strong presence on American university campuses over the past thirty years. Non-traditional students must meet the same standards as all students, but, often, because they are only attending part-time, they will take more time to complete their degree requirements.
Unlike the lives of many 'traditional' Rutgers students, those of non-traditional students will probably not be centered around the university. Their schoolwork is important to them, but they are equally committed to their jobs and families. This is not to suggest that they are less interested in their education; for the most part, they are dedicated and demanding students, often more actively involved in their education than other students. In many ways, they are closer to graduate students—and TAs—in their dedication and commitment than to most undergraduates.
Many of these students have responsible jobs that have accustomed them to carrying out assignments independently.
This experience may make them more demanding as students, less tolerant of wasted class time, poorly-prepared lectures, and careless grading. Changing requirements, policies, or due dates mid-semester, while never a good idea, could cause severe hardships for these students whose time is necessarily carefully budgeted. Always be clear about requirements, whether work is voluntary or required, extra or no credit.
Your policies on deadlines and attendance may have to be more flexible than is usual. A student may have to travel occasionally for her job. A sick child may prevent another from completing his paper. All the work, of course, must be completed, but deadlines should not be totally inflexible.
Because non-traditional students often have a much wider range of experience than traditional students, classes with these students are often livelier and more challenging to you as a teacher than those with only traditional undergraduates. If you have questions about grading and registration requirements for non-traditional students, transfer students, or part-time students, contact the SAS Office of Academic Services.
At Rutgers, as at most U.S. universities, sports are an important part of undergraduate culture. Some of your students, in addition to their obligations to their classes and their jobs, will be committed to one or more varsity sports: football, soccer, basketball, golf, tennis, wrestling, to name just a few. Or, students may participate in the band or on the cheerleading squad. Because travel is often involved in such activities, these students may sometimes have to miss class or even an exam. One of your responsibilities as a teacher, however, is to insure that these activities are not allowed to interfere with the progress the students make toward a degree.
As most people are aware, there have been some notable scandals in college athletic departments over the past few years: student athletes exempted from normal college requirements, teachers pressured to alter grades or lighten coursework, etc. Rutgers has always avoided these problems, stressing academics over athletics. Students who participate in such programs at the university understand that they must meet certain academic standards or they lose eligibility.
Students who are involved in a sport at the university should inform you of this at the beginning of the semester and give you their travel schedule. If there will be serious conflicts over the semester, it is best to discuss how to resolve them at the very beginning. Approximately a week before each trip, the student will bring you a letter, signed by the coach and an athletic academic advisor, to remind you of the upcoming absence. Students who tell you that they are unable to attend class but fail to produce such letters should not be officially excused. A NCAA regulation says that students may not miss class for practice, only for official games.
Student athletes are responsible for making contact with their instructors as soon as they return from a trip. Although they have been excused from class, they are still responsible for finding out what went on in the class and completing the assignments. If a student athlete in your class seems to be having a difficult time keeping up, be sure to speak to the student. Do not assume that the student is just a 'jock' and not really interested in the course; given the often difficult schedule of classes, practices, and games, it is not surprising that some students feel enormous pressure and may need some extra help.
Changes in federal law over the last few decades have opened up opportunities in higher education for people with serious disabilities. Today, any institution that receives federal funding must make its programs accessible to those with disabilities. Since Rutgers has complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the number of disabled students at the university has sharply increased. You, as an instructor at Rutgers, have a responsibility to see that the rights of these students are not violated.
Some TAs may feel uncomfortable at first with a disabled student because they have never had contact with a person with a disability. Once they have a disabled student in their class they will realize that in nearly all respects they are just like the other students. Be careful to treat these students fairly: neither avoid them nor single them out for special treatment, and take care not to insult them by treating them as unusual or by patronizing them.
A sensitive teacher can greatly reduce the obstacles a disabled student faces. Remember that while in some cases the student's disability will be obvious, in many others you will never know about it unless the student tells you. Make it easy for a student to tell you. At the beginning of the semester, make a general announcement inviting students to come to your office or to speak with you privately after class about any questions or problems they may foresee in your course.
Create an appropriate atmosphere for conversation so that the students will feel comfortable speaking to you about their disabilities, and demonstrate a willingness to help them in whatever way you can. As a member of your class, the disabled student should be held responsible for the same material as the others. You may and should, however, make any reasonable accommodations you can to assist the student in completing the course requirements.
What kinds of assistance or accommodation should you expect to arrange? This will vary according to the student and should be determined and confirmed by the Office of Disability Services. All disabled students have a coordinator to assist them in securing the proper accommodations. (You can find out his or her name by calling 848-445-6800.) For students who have not yet met with their coordinator, they should be directed to the appropriate person to secure the proper documentation. After meeting with the student, the disability coordinator will write to you verifying that the student has a disability and describing the necessary accommodations. A student with a hearing problem may simply ask you to reserve a desk near the front of the classroom. Some students may need to record lectures or to have a scribe take notes for them. Others may require longer times for exams or labs. By working together—you, the student, and the ADA coordinator—a solution will be found that works best for all involved.
New TAs will soon discover that, for the most part, Rutgers undergraduates are hard-working, courteous, and well-behaved in class. Occasionally, however, instructors will find themselves faced with a student whose behavior threatens to at least sidetrack if not disrupt the course entirely. Taking swift and firm action early on, before your authority is seriously compromised, is the best policy for all concerned—for you, the other students in the class, and the unruly student. Being able to identify problems before they escalate will help you to maintain control of the class and the materials being presented.
Prevention is always better than cure. Establish certain standards at the beginning of the semester, adhere to them as the course goes on, and many problems can be averted. Explain to your students on the first day that attentiveness and participation are required. (Although most students understand this without being told, a brief discussion of expectations at the beginning of the semester leaves you standing on firmer ground if problems do develop.)
Make it clear that students are not only expected to attend class but to be there mentally. Reading newspapers, listening to music, text-messaging, chatting with classmates, shouting out comments, passing notes, doing homework for other classes, eating, chewing gum loudly—all these activities disturb others in the class and help to undermine the decorum of the classroom. In addition, they signal a disregard for classmates. By requiring participation in the class the teacher is informing the students that they are expected not only to keep up with the work but to be actively involved in the class. Again, setting these ground rules will not guarantee a problem-free class, but they discourage some kinds of behavior before they begin.
Perhaps the most common problem a teacher faces is the student who, for any variety of reasons, feels the need to monopolize class discussions or to blurt out answers before anyone else has a chance to respond. These students inhibit the quieter students, dampen the enthusiasm of the less shy, and cause resentment and anger against themselves and against the teacher who allows them to dominate the class.
One such student is the very bright student, who usually sits near the front of the classroom where it is easiest to make eye contact with the teacher. What this student contributes to the class is generally worthwhile, but the student soon begins to dominate the discussions. At the beginning of the semester at least, the student is often implicitly encouraged in this behavior both by the other students and the teacher. The other students in the class are relieved that they do not have to respond because they know that this vocal student will; the instructor—especially the new and nervous instructor—will be happy that someone is responding, that questions do not fall flat upon a wall of silence. Soon, however, problems may develop. Students will never become wholly engaged in the materials if they feel that the class is a dialogue between the teacher and one or two students. They will soon resent the fact that the course focuses upon a single student rather than on the class, and this resentment can easily turn into hostility by the end of the semester. Because there is no necessity for responding, other students will invest less time in the class, often coming unprepared, thus excluding themselves from any chance of future participation. The end result is a class which is disengaged, a course which lacks the depth that it could have derived from a full range of student responses, and a teacher whose class has failed to excite the students.
From the beginning of the semester, a teacher must work hard to engage all students. Give the students a minute or two to formulate an answer after asking a question. Do not be afraid of silence. Look around the entire class, making eye contact with as many students as possible, to let them know that they are visible and valuable members of the class. Call on students who have not raised their hands. Frame questions toward the individual interests of specific students: the index cards the students filled out on the first day may give you some insights here (see The First Class). If they are unable to answer the first time that you do this, almost certainly they will be better prepared the second time. If a student gives an incorrect or vague answer, work with this student awhile; do not merely pass on quickly to the dominating student from whom you know you can get the desired response. The bright student should certainly not be ignored, but others must also be given the opportunity and the encouragement to participate.
If, in spite of these precautions, the student continues to monopolize the class, take the student aside after class and discuss the situation as you see it. Explain that although you recognize the value of the student's contributions to the class and the depth of the student's knowledge in the subject, you also see the value of involving the whole class in the learning process. You may wish to involve this student in your attempts to make the rest of the class more responsive. Most bright students readily acknowledge their own overeagerness and are willing to give the other students in class an opportunity to respond before they do, especially if their teachers make it clear that they appreciate the student's ability and intelligence.
If a student interrupts others or shouts out the answer without waiting to be called on, make it clear immediately that this behavior is not acceptable. Even in a class discussion, where spontaneity is desirable, students should recognize the rights of others and treat them with courtesy. A discussion should never turn into a free-for-all, and you, the instructor, should act as moderator of the debates, exercising some control over the students, directing the discussion and its participants (see The Discussion Class).
A related problem is the student who is forever volunteering answers that do not really respond to the questions you have asked or that tend to move the class away from the topic under discussion. This is not to say that there is only one answer to any question, but that some students have learned in high school that the best way to get high grades is by bluffing their way through a class. Rather than discussing the text or the issue under consideration (about which they often know very little), the student will relate long stories based on personal experiences or introduce material from another class, neither of which have relevance to the topic at hand. The natural conclusion of the teacher is that the student does not understand the material or has not prepared for the class. The result of the student's response is to get the class off track and cause a carefully planned syllabus to fly out the window.
Anger, however, is not the best response. It is always preferable to try to avoid this situation in the first place, by formulating questions carefully in class so that students are forced to relate the answer to the text or the matter under discussion in class. If the student ignores your pointed question, as such students often do, ask the student to relate the answer to the question more specifically. If the student is unable to do this, you should ask him or her a direct question about class preparation: Have you read the text? or Have you worked out all the steps of the solution? If not, suggest that the student see you after class and at that time you should kindly, yet firmly, explain the inappropriateness of that student's responses in class and the necessity of paying attention to the assignments and class focus. When once informed point-blank that bluffing is not useful, the student will usually stop this behavior.
Another problem is the genuinely disruptive student. You will sometimes encounter students who sit together (usually in one of the back corners of the classroom) and talk and laugh throughout class. Directing a pointed comment at this group may remind them of the expected behavior. "Did you wish to add something to the discussion, Mr. X?" will let them know that their behavior has been observed and that they are not behaving in an acceptable manner. You should also speak to them after class, individually whenever possible. If you wish, you can ask that they no longer sit together during your class. Most students will not persist in this kind of behavior once you have very clearly let them know that you will not allow it.
Other students may signal their lack of interest in the class by reading newspapers or magazines during class, eating, doing homework, or passing notes. Try to catch the eye of these students, letting them know in a non-verbal way that you do not approve of their behavior. Or, if the students are so engrossed in the activity that you cannot catch their eyes, ask a direct question of these inattentive students, and they will certainly not be able to answer. Often this is enough to discourage such behavior. If this doesn't work, however, ask them to stop at once and tell them to see you after class. Do not ignore these students for to do so only encourages others to participate in this kind of behavior.
Students who make offensive remarks in the classroom must be informed at once that their behavior is unacceptable. Make it very clear from the beginning of the semester that this can never be tolerated in a university classroom. Sexist, racist, homophobic, and xenophobic remarks should be confronted on the spot. If the student seems genuinely not to understand the problem, explain why the remark is unacceptable. But if the student clearly means to offend, you should respond sternly and quickly. This is one classroom situation where a show of anger may be justified. If, after being spoken to, the student persists in such behavior, you may have to appeal to the Dean's Office of that students particular school for further action (see Creating the Right Atmosphere; Our Common Purposes).
In most situations, however, the basic rule is not to embarrass the student in class. Embarrassment does little to help change the student's behavior and may inhibit the other members of the class from contributing. Never let a student feel 'put down;' this intimidates and usually turns off future participation.
No student should be allowed an unfair advantage through the use of dishonest methods. According to studies completed at Rutgers, a high percentage of Rutgers undergraduates have cheated at one time or another during their years at the university. Although teachers may try to deny or ignore this fact, ignoring it only complicates the problem. Until academic dishonesty is confronted as a serious problem, little will be done to change the situation.
Examples of academic dishonesty cover a wide range of behaviors, including: copying homework, plagiarizing, buying term papers, and cheating on exams. Some students are fully aware they are cheating, while others may not identify their actions as such. Teachers who work to establish honest and trusting relationships with the students in their classes rightly view cheating as a violation of that trust.
Some teachers deny that their students cheat because it seems to be a personal affront and some realize that students do cheat, indeed even suspect certain students of cheating, but refuse to act upon their suspicions. They may worry about causing the student irreparable damage, of ruining the student's life, or they may just wish to avoid an unpleasant scene or the process involved in going through a university hearing. So, for whatever reason, they remain silent, but to remain silent is to participate in the student's dishonesty.
How should a teacher react to cheating? Finding a correct and measured response to this problem troubles many TAs. Overreacting may do more harm than good although it may signal to the students the seriousness with which you view the offense. It could be said that overly-suspicious teachers invite students to cheat. Students feel challenged to 'put one over' on the teacher. Teachers who refuse to recognize the possibility of cheating may also be leading their classes to do just that.
The fact is that students are under a lot of pressure. Given this pressure, some students find it difficult to resist the opportunity to cheat when it is presented. As a teacher, it is your obligation not to put the students in a situation where cheating is easy. This is not to throw the burden of blame for cheating on the teachers—as some students invariably do—but to safeguard the integrity of your class and protect the rights of all students in the course.
How can a teacher guard against cheating? First, by making the students believe that there are good reasons for behaving honorably. Most instructors would do well at the beginning of the semester to spend a few minutes talking about academic integrity. Reading aloud the university policy on academic integrity is often a sobering experience, for the students learn that the teacher is obligated to report all violations for investigation. In order for you to carry out your responsibility to the university, you have no alternative but to report suspected violations of the code.
Explain that the university is an institution based upon the free exchange of knowledge. To plagiarize another's work knowingly, falsify data, or give or receive assistance on exams or other work is to violate the basic principles of the academy. Explain very carefully that plagiarism does not merely mean copying someone's words without properly crediting them, but copying their ideas also. Many students have a limited and unusual idea of what constitutes plagiarism, a legacy of their high school English classes. Correct this misperception. Set limits for your students on the first day of the semester. Explain the meaning of group work and where and when it is appropriate.
The Research Paper
The research paper can be an opportunity for the student to become familiar with the research materials available at the library and the process of original scholarship, or it can be an occasion for dishonesty. Everyone by now is familiar with the term-paper mills (if you are not, do an online search for "term paper") where a student can buy a paper. Fraternities are also notorious sources of recycled papers. To avoid receiving purloined papers, take some time to insure that your students submit their own work. Some suggestions for prevention follow.
Take time to develop a good topic. Set very definite parameters to the assignment. Even when strict limits are set, some students will try to get away with a paper on a related topic. Be firm about the range of topics.
Don't use the same essay topics every semester. Besides making the reading of the papers more interesting for you, it removes a source of easy temptation from the student's path. Choose a topic that will definitely require the use of current research.
If practical, insist that the students hand in outlines, working bibliographies, and photocopies or scans of note cards as they proceed. A cursory reading of this material is generally all that is necessary, but if you have any questions about the papers you will have something to which you can refer.
If possible, meet with the students before they hand in their thesis statements. Discuss the papers they plan to write. Make recommendations of sources for the papers. Tell students that they may be expected to discuss their papers and its sources at a later meeting.
If, after all this, you think a student has handed in someone else's work as his or her own, you must act. First, try to find the source if it is a clear case of plagiarism. If you are unable to locate the source, then you should show the paper to another faculty member who is familiar with the topic and may be able to help. Without discovering the source, you will have a difficult time proving plagiarism. If you cannot pinpoint the author, but you still have serious doubts about the paper's source, speak to the student. You might ask some specific questions about the paper, what the student means by certain words and phrases, or ask questions about some of the sources cited in the paper. Do not accuse the student directly of cheating. Explore the situation with such questions as "I was interested in your statement . . . ,?" "I don't understand how . . . ,?" "I was puzzled by . . . ,?" "Can you tell me how you came to this conclusion?" etc. In the absence of a satisfactory response, you are left with no alternative but to refer the matter for review.
Cheating on Exams
Make it difficult for students to cheat on exams. Try to make the atmosphere comfortable within limits. Some teachers suggest bringing in soft drinks or snacks for their students; this is certainly not necessary, but it does help to relieve some of the tension and pressure felt by students in an exam. You will find that taking some reasonable precautions will discourage most of your students from cheating.
Don't use the same exams every semester. Besides telling the students that you are a lazy and disengaged teacher, it makes it very easy for them to get a copy of the old exam.
Give the students many small tests and papers rather than one or two large ones. This relieves some of the pressures which cause students to cheat in the first place.
If possible, use short answer or essay exams rather than relying solely on true/false or multiple choice questions. If you do use multiple choice or true/false, make several different versions of the exam, with the order of the questions scrambled. Printing the exams on different colors of paper also helps.
After making up a test, take care to keep it in a secure place. Do not leave tests lying around the office or in your departmental mail box.
On the day of the exam, ask the students to seat themselves in alternate seats and rows so they will not be tempted to cheat.
Set definite rules on what students can carry into the classroom. Ask them to leave all other books and materials, cell phones, MP3 players, bags, and hats at the front or sides of the room. Allowing students to carry materials to the desks increases the likelihood of cheating.
If students are allowed to bring calculators into the exam, decide in advance if there are to be any restrictions: are programmable calculators permissible? Will students be allowed to share calculators?
Distribute the blue-books to the students yourself; students who provide their own bluebooks may be tempted to write notes in pencil somewhere in the book. Have students begin writing on page two, or six lines down on the first page—whatever you choose—to prevent them from substituting pre-written tests. In addition, put some sort of distinct mark on the blue-books so you can be sure that books have not been smuggled in.
If the exam is held in a large, crowded classroom, make sure there are enough proctors. Many departments will hire them for you—just ask your department secretary or advisor.
Walk around the classroom during the exam. Do not leave the classroom unattended. If you sit down, do so in the back of the room.
If you see a student cheating during the exam, take action immediately. A student who seems to be trying to look at another student's paper may be stopped with a meaningful look. If the student continues to look, insist that the student move to another part of the room. If a student is looking at notes during the test, you should take the test and the notes and speak to the student after class.
If you do find clear evidence of cheating on an exam or a paper, remember that you are obligated to report the case to the faculty advisor for the class or to the department chair. You are required to report any incident of suspected academic dishonesty. The student will get a fair hearing, but if found guilty, will be penalized for this act. Cheating by a single student is eminently unfair to the others in the class; it is your obligation to protect the rights of honest students. If you do not, they in turn will feel cheated by you.
With the ease of cutting and pasting and the vast amounts of material available, the web offers endless opportunities for quick, easy plagiarism. But while cheating is easier than ever before thanks to the Internet, the Internet is also highly useful for catching those same cheaters. Many students do not realize that their instructors will use the Internet, too, to identify cases of plagiarism. The Internet is a wonderful tool for combating plagiarism; not only can you search for the plagiarized sources, you can also find tips from other instructors on preventing and finding violations of academic integrity.
You can minimize the possibility that students will download/purchase an entire paper by giving specific, detailed assignments that are unlikely to exist in any database of papers, and by changing the assignments every year. If students are coming up with their own paper topics, have them discuss their ideas with you in advance and turn in drafts, outlines, and preliminary bibliographies.
As experienced instructors know, lazy (or confused) students may 'borrow' phrases and paragraphs from material they find on-line and insert them into their papers without quotation marks or attribution. They may also hand in papers that were written entirely by someone else. Students can find archives of free papers on the Internet (some sites ask students who use the site's papers to post papers of their own), sites offering already-written papers for sale, and sites which promise to write papers on demand to fulfill a particular assignment. You may find it educational to visit some of these sites yourself. Some popular free sites are Anti Essays and StudyMode.
If you suspect that a student has cut and pasted parts of a paper or if some of the language of the paper differs markedly from the rest or from what you would expect of a student, you need to follow through on your suspicions. When particular phrases strike you as unusual, for example, if they sound overly polished or technical or academic, search on those phrases in a search engine. Type in the exact phrase, sentence, or paragraph with quotation marks around it. You may also want to search in Google books.
If the search produces any matches, follow the links to the web sites and determine whether the student has copied the material without attribution. The online retailer Amazon.com recently introduced a feature which allows visitors to the site to search for words or phrases within the texts of many of the books it sells. This may help you discover whether a student has taken a portion of text from a book. Whatever you do, document your searches, writing down or book-marking the relevant URLs (addresses) and printing out pages which contain matching text.
If the paper as a whole doesn't quite conform to your assignment or in some way seems suspicious to you (too many sources, sources that you don't trust, footnotes which don't seem to go with the text, a complete lack of footnotes), the student may have acquired the entire paper online, either from a free site or from a paper mill which sells term papers. David Alan Black of the Department of Communications at Seton Hall University warns that papers purchased from on-line sources are unlikely to show up by searching on phrases using a search engine. Sites which sell papers may not post the papers themselves online—students will be able to download the paper once they have paid for it, or they may have it emailed, faxed, or mailed to them. (You will probably be able to find papers from free sites by searching on a phrase.) While you may not be able to track down the paper itself, if you search using the title of the paper, you may find it in a listing in an on-line catalog of papers, if the student hasn't bothered to alter the title. For more tips, visit Heyward Ehrlich's (Department of English, Rutgers Newark) website, Plagiarism and Anti-Plagiarism.
You may also wish to use Turnitin, which is available on Sakai to all instructors.
If you do find evidence that a student has engaged in plagiarism or any other form of cheating, don't take action on your own, like failing the student or tearing up his or her paper. Following University procedures protects you and ensures fairness for your students. Speak to the chair of your department, and go to the Resources for Instructors for instructions on how to report violations of academic integrity.
TAs who can find ways to effectively integrate instructional technologies into their teaching practices will enhance both their students' learning experiences and their own marketability. In addition to basic email, Internet, and computing services, Rutgers University provides a variety of technological tools to enhance your teaching, including mailing list services, software for posting course materials online, instructional microcomputer labs for hands-on use during class time, a media lab for the creation of graphical materials, and digital library resources. In addition, your department may have discipline-specific software available.
Technology changes, and so do the resources available at Rutgers. Keep yourself current by attending the workshops offered by the Center for Teaching Advancement and Assessment Research (CTAAR) and the Office of Information Technology (OIT), and by visiting the websites of CTAAR, OIT, the Rutgers libraries, and the TA Project.
An easy way to integrate technology into your teaching and to develop your students' information literacy skills is to have them use the Internet to find material to use in class. The Internet can become a supplement to your textbook or regular reading list, offering the most recent information and a wide array of opinions.
Depending on the topic and your goals for the classroom, it can be hard to find trustworthy information on the Internet, so if you're going to use the Internet in your classroom, you should discuss strategies for identifying reliable Internet sources. Make sure students understand that the information they find online probably hasn't gone through a filtering process like editing or peer review. Let students know that they need to ask the following kinds of questions to begin to evaluate information they find online:
Who is the author and what are his or her credentials? Does any institution (corporation, organization, university, government body, etc.), support this website? Does the institution exercise quality control over the content? How might the content of the website be biased by the author's affiliation with the supporting institution? When was the content created, and how recently was it updated? What is the apparent purpose of the information (to persuade, inform, entertain)? Who is the intended audience?
You can expect students to come to you with personal problems as the semester progresses. For a variety of reasons, students often confide in TAs during personal crises. Listen to your students. Keep the lines of communications open. Even if the problems of the students seem trivial to you, do not treat them lightly. Remember that many of your students are living on their own for the first time and trying to cope with increased academic and social demands. Your compassion and understanding could make a big difference in their lives.
Some students won't come directly and ask for assistance but may send you signals about their difficulties in other ways. There are a number of signs which can alert you to the fact that a student may be in trouble.
Marked decline in quality of course work, class participation, quality of papers or test results; increased absence from class or failure to turn in work.
Prolonged depression, suggested by a sad expression, apathy, weight loss or gain, sleeping difficulty and tearfulness.
Nervousness, agitation, excessive worry, irritability, aggressiveness or nonstop talking.
Bizarre, strange behavior or speech.
Extreme dependency on faculty or staff, including spending much of his or her spare time visiting during office hours or at other times.
Marked change in personal hygiene.
Talk of suicide, either directly or indirectly such as, "I won't be around to take that exam anyway" or "I'm not worried about getting a job, I won't need one."
Comments in a student's paper that arouse concern.
If you are unsure about the severity of the student's problem, or the steps which should be taken, a consultation with a staff member from Counseling, ADAP & Psychiatric Services (CAPS) will help you to evaluate the problem and offer some suggestions for assistance. Always remember that you are a TA—and most of you will have no mental health provider training—so the extent to which you can directly help students may be limited.
Never try to force a student to go to counseling. Inevitably, this is counterproductive. Encourage the students in whatever way you can, and let them know that you are concerned and willing to help, but do not try to strong-arm them. Too much pressure will make them retreat, perhaps cutting them off from their only avenue of assistance. If, however, you suspect the student will harm themself or others, you should contact Counseling, ADAP & Psychiatric Services (CAPS) immediately. They will be able to guide you through the process of making sure the student and their classmates are protected.
Undergraduates are not, of course, the only ones subject to depression and anxiety; graduate students are just as likely to suffer from these problems. TAs should acknowledge the fact that they are human and may sometimes need help; they should also recognize the fact that their unique position in the university—both teacher and student—produces special problems. There is no need to wait until the pressure is unbearable. The sooner you seek help—for yourself or your student—the better.
Counseling, ADAP & Psychiatric Services (CAPS) provides personal counseling and psychological services for students at Rutgers. All university students, including those in the graduate and professional schools at Rutgers, are eligible for this free and confidential service.
Matters involving counseling are kept strictly confidential. No information about a student is released without the student's permission, not even the fact that he or she consulted a counselor. No record of his or her visit to the Counseling Center is retained on permanent university records, so it cannot appear on a transcript or any official record.
The staff consists of clinical and counseling psychologists and social workers. Among their specialties are short term psychotherapy, marriage and relationship counseling and education, group dynamics and group psychotherapy, coping with stress, test-taking anxiety, family issues, and phobias. The main center is located at 17 Senior Street on the College Avenue Campus.
Peer counseling programs exist at most colleges. You may wish to refer your students to one of these services if they come to you for advice. These programs provide drop-in centers and a telephone hotline (732-247-5555) for students needing information, counseling, or referral to campus or community agencies. A TA who is not sure where to direct a student can call one of the peer counseling centers and receive assistance.
Most of us recognize the need to exhibit sensitivity to our students and colleagues on very delicate subjects. We would not make jokes in class about serious matters like religion or death; neither would we make personal remarks about someone's physical appearance. In general, we try to treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated, with sensitivity and respect.
Since many TAs are still taking courses, they are able to empathize with their students as students, to understand what it feels like to be on the other side of the desk. But treating students as you would like to be treated does not necessarily mean that you should assume that they are all exactly like you. In fact, it is vital that you recognize, acknowledge, and respect each student's individuality. When you stand in front of a classroom or meet with students in your office, you can assume that all are students at Rutgers, but beyond that it is risky to assume anything. Otherwise, a thoughtless joke or a careless word can cause discomfort, even pain, to someone in your class. Be aware of the power you have to wound others and guard against doing so.
Students must also be held to the same standard of behavior, and one of the responsibilities of the TA is to help students understand this; it is a necessary part of their education. A large number of Rutgers students are from New Jersey and have little experience with people outside of their own race or ethnic group. Others have come from countries where cultural attitudes are radically different. Lack of experience, however, does not excuse intolerance. As TAs we must address problems when they arise, to help our students learn to understand and accept people who are different.
TAs should be careful not to single out any group as inferior or superior, to make jokes or derogatory remarks about any person or any group on the basis of age, race, nationality, or sexual orientation. If you are guilty of making remarks that are racist, xenophobic, or homophobic, your statements will certainly be found offensive by some members of the class and may personally hurt others. Some students will see your expression of these attitudes as acceptance of this type of behavior and be encouraged in their own prejudices and hatreds. Education should be a process which opens the students up to a wider range of experiences and possibilities, not one which narrows or hardens old attitudes and prejudices.
Perhaps the most important point is that the TA should always treat the students with respect and try to be sensitive to their individual needs. Placing a student in an uncomfortable position either through words or actions is unnecessary and cruel. Understand that the relationship between a student and a teacher is a professional one; respect that bond and refuse to exploit it.