Teaching Guidelines

Please see the GSAS guidelines for graduate student teaching, as well as its information about its Teaching Toolkit for the resources it provides, including those available through the Center for Teaching and Learning.


Doctoral students with multiyear fellowship packages are expected to teach for a total of six semesters. As a general rule, students teach during the second, third, and fourth years of study in the program. Those who receive certain outside fellowships, for a year when they would otherwise be teaching, should consult with GSAS and the DGS about a possible exemption from teaching that year.

In order to teach, students must be in good academic standing and be making satisfactory progress towards the Ph.D. 

Selection and Assignment

Assignments: Decisions about teaching assignments are made by the Teaching Committee (which consists of the Chair, Director of Graduate Studies, and the Director of the Russian Language Program) in consultation with the faculty as a whole as well as with the individual faculty members who supervise or teach the specific courses that require a teaching fellow.

The general practice is for doctoral students to teach two years of language and serve as a Teaching Assistant in a literature or cultural class for one year. Before the start of the academic year (or of a given semester), the department circulates information about possible assignments, as well as eligibility criteria. Students then are asked to state their preferences and indicate relevent training and experience. Members of the Teaching Committee consult with individual students to discuss progress, plans, and possible teaching assignments. Students may also be interviewed by the faculty members who will be supervising.

In making assignments, the Teaching Committee balances various considerations: the needs of the program, enrollments, the student’s preferences, the student’s language skills (in language courses) or knowledge of the field (in other courses), the student’s prior teaching experience, the student’s need to develop a broad teaching portfolio. It is desirable for students in the Russian literature program to have experience teaching both first-year and second-year Russian language courses.

Notification of Teaching Assignments: By the end of the semester before, the Teaching Committee informs students of their provisional teaching assignments in writing. However, assignments are subject to change as late as the beginning of the semester, depending on course offerings, course enrollments, and the pool of graduate students available to teach. The pool can change as students are awarded fellowships or teaching positions outside the department.

Students are welcome to discuss teaching assignments with members of the Teaching Committee. See below on formal grievance procedures.

Assignments: Types, Duties, Training

There are three types of teaching assignments.

  1. Russian language teaching: Each teaching fellow is responsible for conducting a section of either first- or second-year Russian language. Russian language teaching fellows teach the course themselves, working in close, regular consultation with the supervisor and following the course design, curriculum and requirements that are shared with them by the course supervisor. Teaching fellows teach all classes, develop classroom activities and teaching materials, evaluate students' oral performance, grade students' written work.  
  2. Teaching of languages other than Russian: Teaching fellows for these languages teach the course themselves and work in close, regular consultation with the faculty member responsible for instruction in the relevant language. The teaching fellow follows the curriculum determined by the supervisor, teaches all classes, develops or modifies existing homework assignments, quizzes and exams, and corrects students’ written work. 
  3. Teaching fellows in literature and culture courses: when it is justified by enrollment, teaching fellows with the relevant background and training may assist faculty members in courses in literature and culture. The duties vary depending on the nature of the course. Duties may include: grading homework, papers and exams; responding to student questions; advising students on course projects; proctoring exams; keeping records of attendance and grades; conducting review sections; and possibly other teaching duties. The teaching assistant receives training for these duties from the faculty member who conducts the course and meets with the faculty member regularly.

Teaching Fellows in all courses are expected to hold regular office hours.

in the week before classes begin in the fall, all new teaching fellows should participate in the GSAS Teaching Fellow orientation. Teaching fellows should also take part in any workshops or orientations run by their supervisor in the Slavic Department.

Evaluation of Teaching

Teaching is evaluated in three ways. First, the immediate faculty supervisor is responsible for monitoring and observing the student’s teaching in an ongoing fashion. Second, the teaching fellow should ask one faculty member (normally the faculty mentor or dissertation adviser) to visit their class at least once a semester and provide feedback, either orally or writing. Third, students in the courses fill out course evaluations that are reviewed by faculty supervisor. Student evaluations are included in the teaching fellow’s portfolio.

The ongoing evaluation of teaching is intended both to improve the quality of teaching and to allow the teaching fellow to create a teaching portfolio that will be useful, even necessary, in applying for teaching positions.

Other Teaching Opportunities and Resources

Advanced doctoral students should consider applying for teaching opportunities outside the department. These include the Teaching Scholars Program, which gives graduate students the opportunity to design and teach a course in their area of expertise. Advanced students may also apply to teach in Columbia’s Core Curriculum, both in Literature Humanities and in Contemporary Civilization, as well as in the University Writing Program. Interested students will need to apply directly to these programs and follow the eligibility guidelines established by GSAS. All Teaching Fellows are urged to take advantage of the offerings of the Center for Teaching and Learning. The Center offers graduate students a variety of services, including workshops, consultations, mid-course reviews, teaching observations. Doctoral students with a serious interest in pedagogy should apply to become Lead Teaching Fellows.

Policy on Graduate Teaching Fellow Absences

Teaching Fellows are expected to meet all class sessions, appointments, and other obligations associated with their teaching assignment. Teaching Fellows should consult with the supervisor of their course to make sure that they fully understand their responsibilities at the start of the semester.

In the event that a Teaching Fellow must miss a class, office hour, appointment with supervisor, or other meeting, or is unable to perform other teaching-related duties due to illness or other extreme circumstances, they should follow the procedures outlined below.

If the absence is anticipated in advance, the Teaching Fellow should do all of the following:

  1. contact the immediate supervisor and the Russian Language Coordinator (in the case of a language class) about the need to miss a class or meeting and consult with them in making appropriate arrangements for covering the class or meeting.
  2. once these arrangements have been made, also inform the chair, academic department administrator, and the administrative assistant of the plan. Copy all three plus the supervisor on one e-mail message. Send this message as soon as possible and in advance of the missed class.

If a Teaching Fellow will miss a class or meeting (or substantive part of one) due to an unanticipated, last-minute emergency (medical or other), the Teaching Fellow or a proxy should do all of the following as soon as feasible:

  1. call the Slavic Department at 212 854-3941. If there is no answer, leave a message and then also call 212 854-5157 (the DAAF’s direct line). If there is no answer, leave a message on that line, too.
  2. e-mail the supervisor of the course, the Russian Language Coordinator, and the chair of the department to let them know the situation.
  3. attempt to make last-minute arrangements for the class to be covered by a faculty member or another teaching fellow.
  4. continue to communicate with supervisor, administrators, and chair about the circumstances, including the anticipated date of return to teaching.

Teaching Fellows should provide to the Department (both to their supervisor and the Academic Department Administrator) written documentation of emergencies, illnesses, and other causes of absences.

If absences recur or become disruptive to the class, or if a Teaching Fellow fails to perform duties associated with the teaching assignment, the Department will work with GSAS to determine appropriate action in order to maintain the continuity and integrity of the course for the students.

Questions about this policy should be directed to the chair of the department.

Resolving Problems and Grievances

Teaching fellows are encouraged to consult, in person or in writing, with their immediate faculty supervisor or any member of the Teaching Committee about problems that arise in the course of teaching. If the problem cannot be resolved within the department, the student should contact the Associate Dean of Student Affairs at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 109 Low Library.