Teaching Assistantships

Most PhD students in the English Department serve as teaching assistants for part, or all, of their graduate careers. Teaching in the department provides a measure of colleagueship with other faculty and serves as crucial professional preparation for a career in the academy. PhD students typically teach two sections of English 1000 each semester of their first year. In addition to English 1000, PhD students teach introductory courses in literature, creative writing, and film. Students may also be assigned teaching assistantships in partnership with faculty members. The standard schedule for graduate students in the program is two courses per semester. 

Undergraduate workshops in Creative Writing are assigned to qualified students by the Creative Writing Program. Literature courses are assigned to advanced graduate students on the basis of applications made to a committee consisting of the Director of Undergraduate Studies, the Departmental Adviser, and the Director of Composition, who acts in an advisory capacity. Self-funded MA students do not teach.

Courses Taught by Graduate Students


English 1000: First year PhD students teach English 1000, and graduate students who teach two courses per semester should generally expect that at least one of these will be English 1000. In addition to the traditional sections of English 1000 (capped at 20 students), the department offers a number of sections for international students (English 1000 IS, capped at 15) and for Honors students (English 1000H, capped at 20).

After teaching ENG 1000 successfully, graduate students have the opportunity to teach English 2010 (Intermediate Composition) and English 2030 (Professional Writing), which are capped at 15 students and 20 students, respectively.


A section of English 1160 (Themes in Literature) is the usual course assignment for new teachers of literature. We typically offer 3 sections of this course per semester, with 30 students in each class. The thematic options for 1160 are: Literature and Contemporary Social Issues; Literature and Science, Health, or Technology; and Genre or Theme in Literature. Students must take English 8020 (The Theory and Practice of Teaching in English) to be eligible to teach this course.

English 1100 (Reading Literature) is a large lecture course especially for freshman and sophomore non-majors. The course topic and readings vary depending on the faculty member who is teaching it, but most often it presents contemporary literature as a way to get college students thinking about how and why they read literature. This course usually uses 1 graduate student TA, who is asked to attend all lectures and read the assigned texts; to teach two breakout sessions (of usually 30 students each) one day a week; to facilitate and monitor small group discussion during lectures; collaborate with the professor on creating course assessments (tests, exams, group work etc.); and grade the assessments for their respective breakout groups. Experience teaching a literature course is preferred, but not required.

Every semester a 3000-level survey is taught as a large Writing Intensive class by a professor with a graduate student as a TA. Which survey this is varies from one semester to the next.

Teaching Assistants in Other Large Enrollment Classes: These are arranged by and with individual faculty members who are teaching larger courses at the 3000- and 4000-levels. Such assignments are contingent upon the class enrolling enough students to support a TA position, and are usually given to advanced graduate students in their particular field of study.

Creative Writing

Creative Writing Workshops: Usually after one semester or more of teaching in the composition program, Creative Writing graduate students can teach introductory-level workshops (1510- Intro to Fiction, 1520- Intro to Nonfiction Prose, 1530-Intro to Poetry) and, at times, Intermediate workshops (2510, 2520, and 2530). These classes are capped at 15. On occasion, sections of the advanced workshops are available to graduate students.


Each semester the department offers 3-4 sections of English 1800, some taught by Film Studies faculty and some by English graduate students. English/Film 1800 is one of the core courses for the Film Studies major at MU, and is the prerequisite for many upper-division courses in Film. The course focuses on introduction to terms and concepts for film analysis, including mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing, sound, narrative, genre, and other elements. Instructors organize a common screening on Monday evenings together with a course coordinator and teach independent sections of 30 students, using film clips and a film textbook. Graduate students from all areas of the department are encouraged to apply.  

Teaching Assignments

While the department first and foremost aims to provide graduate students with a variety of teaching experiences, including those specifically relevant to their fields of study, it also takes other factors into account when making teaching assignments.

Criteria for Teaching Assignments
  • departmental teaching needs
  • strength of proposal, when applicable
  • strength of teaching record, as evident from teaching observations and student evaluations
  • completed relevant coursework, when applicable

If you have been assigned a class in the past that cancelled due to low enrollment, we will take that into account.

Teaching assignments are made by a committee; the following people are responsible for the following components of this process:

  • Director of Composition (DC) and Assistant Director: assign composition courses
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS): assigns literature courses
  • Director of Creative Writing (DCW): assigns creative writing workshops
  • Instructor of ENG 8020 (past and/or present): helps to assess the graduate student’s teaching potential, when applicable
  • Director of Graduate Studies (DGS): considers the distribution of teaching experiences amongst graduate students
  • Chair: considers departmental needs

Recommendations for assignments for film classes will be sent to a committee by faculty in that area.

Support for Teaching

The department offers two pedagogy courses, English 8010: The Theory and Practice of Teaching Composition and English 8020: The Theory and Practice of Teaching in English, and 2 Creative Writing Pedagogy workshops each semester. Further support for graduate student teachers, such as assistance with syllabus and assignment design, is provided by the DC and Assistant Director (for composition classes), the DUS (for literature classes), and the DCW (for creative writing workshops).

In addition to taking English 8010 in their first semester, all students teaching or preparing to teach English 1000 for the first time receive extensive professional development support, including participating in a week-long pre-semester orientation, participating in peer mentor groups in their second semester, and engaging in pedagogical workshops and peer observations throughout the year.

New teachers of literature and creative writing will attend an informational session about their assigned course in the semester before they teach it. Syllabus support and help with assignment designs will be included in this session, and these sessions will be run by the DUS and DCW respectively. All syllabi must be submitted to them for approval prior to the beginning of the semester.

Evaluation of Teaching

In the first semester of teaching composition, instructors are observed by the DC. In the second semester of teaching, they are observed by their Composition Program Assistant mentor. In the second and third year, they are observed by a Composition Program Assistant. Advanced teachers are urged to ask the DC, the Assistant Director, and/or members of their committee to observe their classes and provide feedback.

All students who are teaching literature and creative writing for the first time must ask a faculty member to observe a class period and engage in follow-up activities, such as meeting to discuss the course and writing a letter of observation. It is best to choose a faculty member with whom the student is otherwise engaged, but the DUS (for literature course) and the DCW (for creative writing courses) are also available to do teaching observations.

Rights and Responsibilities
Responsibilities for Instructors of English 1000

The Composition Program has established set of responsibilities to provide guidance for all instructors of English 1000. This list is intended to offer all English 1000 instructors a clear set of expectations and to be enabling and generative. If you have questions or concerns, please contact the Director or Assistant Director of Composition.

  • Design and teach a first-year rhetoric and writing course that supports student learning toward program goals and students’ own writing and learning goals; aligns with the program syllabus guidelines and policies; and enacts guiding principles for sound writing instruction (from the CCCC Position Statement Principles for the Post-Secondary Teaching of Writing).
  • Submit your course syllabus, a schedule, project descriptions, and rubrics to the department and program by the first day of classes every semester. Any material you and students co-create should be submitted to the Assistant Director of Composition as soon as possible.
  • Communicate with students outside of class.
    • Respond to student questions and emails in a timely manner, generally within 24 hours during regular weekday business hours.
    • Hold one office hour per week per section (maximum of three hours) and be available by appointment within reasonable guidelines.
  • Facilitate various active writing and learning activities (both in-class and out-of-class) and employ varied teaching techniques to support students’ diverse learning and writing needs.
    • Arrive promptly to class with carefully prepared, scaffolded lesson plans designed to help students to fulfill unit and course learning outcomes.
    • Clearly communicate the goals and expectations of each project and assignment.
  • Teach students how to engage with formative, specific, timely, descriptive, and goal-directed feedback about their writing throughout the writing processes and projects.
    • Provide accessible and retrievable comments to identify accomplishments, denote areas for revision, and offer next steps for revision toward writing goals.
    • Scaffold instructor, peer, and self-assessment feedback and reflection moments to support students in revising their writing for the next step in the writing process or for the next project.
  • Assess student work using equitable and transparent methods and clearly describe those methods and criteria in your syllabus and/or writing project descriptions.
  • Keep clear and detailed records of grades and student progress in the course, and maintain grade information in a way that is retrievable for student requests and for Department needs in case of emergency.
  • Engage in professional development to support a teaching culture of collaboration and pedagogical development.
    • Attend required program meetings.
    • Attend at least one Composition One Read and Pedagogy workshop per academic year.
    • Additionally:
      • All first-year graduate instructors participate in biweekly peer mentoring meetings during the spring semester.​
      • All first-year graduate instructors with no first-year writing/composition classroom teaching experience participate in weekly peer mentoring meetings during the fall semester.

Approved by Composition Committee, December 3, 2019.

Responsibilities for Graduate Instructors of Literature Classes
  • Take ENGL 8020: Theory and Practice of Teaching in English before applying to teach a literature course.
  • Design an introductory literature course according to the departmental guidelines for individual courses. In general, these introductory courses should support general education humanities course goals and provide beginning students with the skills needed to take more advanced literature classes and/or to major in English.
  • Attend an informational meeting about course design and assignments with the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the semester prior to their scheduled course.
  • Submit the course syllabus and schedule to the DUS for review one month before the first day of classes, then submit the final copy to the department before the first day of class.
  • When teaching the course, show up for class on time and prepared; respond to students in a timely fashion; hold regular office hours and be reasonably available for meetings by appointment; communicate the goals and expectations for each assignment; keep students informed of their grades in the course to date; and promote respectful dialogue and conversation.
  • When teaching for the first time, request and schedule a faculty member to observe a class period and to engage in follow-up activities, such as meeting to discuss the course and writing a letter of observation. Requests should begin with faculty with whom the graduate instructor is otherwise engaged, but the DUS can fill in if they are unavailable.
  • Course evaluations will be reviewed regularly by the DUS and/or department chair in order to provide appropriate teaching support.

If you have questions or concerns, or if any issues arise during the teaching of the course, please contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies.