July 1, 2012
Dear Incoming Graduate Students,
Welcome both to the Department of English and to your teaching assignment for the next two years, English 316K: Masterworks of Literature. We write to introduce the course and to tell you about the mandatory Teaching Assistant Orientation, which will take place Tuesday and Wednesday, August 21-22, 2012.
English 316K is UT-Austin’s answer to a state-wide humanities requirement. Our faculty teaches the course in three variants: American, British, and World. Every undergraduate student at UT- Austin must fulfill the E316K requirement in order to graduate. As a result, the Department offers more than twenty sections of the course per year, with an annual enrollment of approximately 4500 students. E316K is a major source of funding for our graduate program and a public face for both the Department of English and the College of Liberal Arts. Departmental faculty regard it as our “marquee” course and, in that spirit, devote significant energy and resources to its success.
This is a particularly exciting time to be involved in teaching E316K. In fall 2011 the Department competed for and won a major Course Transformation Grant from the Provost’s Office. Over the next three years faculty and graduate students will work collaboratively to enhance student learning in this large lecture course by incorporating innovative instructional approaches and materials. The first change made by the course transformation team, which is led by Professors Phillip Barrish and Evan Carton, is the expanded and improved T.A. Orientation to which this letter refers. (NB: Attendance at the T.A. Orientation is indeed mandatory, so please make your travel arrangements accordingly.)
Because the department’s graduate faculty regard scholarship and teaching as intimately related, we view your work as a T.A. as an integral part of the professional training you will receive while in our program. In an important sense, your participation in E316K marks the commencement of your career as a university-level teacher. Teaching Assistants are asked to: attend all lectures; lead two weekly discussion sections of approximately 25 students each; evaluate assignments, essays, and examinations; hold office hours; and participate in regular staff meetings with the course instructor and other T.A.s, in addition to other more minor responsibilities that vary by section. The workload for an E316K T.A. assignment is significantly lighter than that of an autonomously taught course. Indeed, these T.A. assignments are ideally suited for students in their first two years in the graduate program, when Ph.D. course work should be the top priority. Nonetheless, many graduate students find that what they learn from the course lectures and reading assignments can contribute to field exam preparation and inspire additional research and scholarship.
We look forward to seeing you on Tuesday and Wednesday, August 21-22, when you and your new colleagues will meet with E316K faculty and experienced T.A.s and learn about best practices in E316K teaching. Over these two days we will discuss the ethos and mechanics of the course, address issues of pedagogical authority and model discussion facilitation, consider the role of “close reading” in a large lecture literature course, and broach topics such as faculty- T.A. collaboration and methods of evaluation. There will also be no small amount of socializing. (For the full schedule of events, please see the enclosed program.) By the end of the orientation we trust that you will feel confident as you step into the E316K classroom at the end of August.
In the meantime, we ask that you read the enclosed documents, which we will address at some length during T.A. Orientation. Please don’t hesitate to contact us should you have any questions or concerns.
We hope that summer finds you well and look forward to meeting you in August.
Phillip J. Barrish, Ph.D.
Lower Division Literature Program
Lower Division Literature Program