Teaching Assistants

A. Requirements and Duties of Teaching Assistants

  • Who must serve as a TA?
    All students who receive a departmental assistantship are expected to serve as teaching assistants for the department. The department head makes the teaching assignments before the start of each semester.
  • How do I prepare for TA duties?
    The University requires that students serving as teaching assistants receive preparation for their instructional duties. Teaching assistants should obtain training in generic teaching strategies before or during their first teaching assignment in one of the following ways:
  1. Attend teaching assistant training activities sponsored by the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence. See for information about TA courses.
  2. Enroll in AGED 530, Agricultural College Teaching.
  • What are the English competency requirements for TAs?
    Non-native speakers of English are required to demonstrate competency in spoken English before serving as teaching assistants. Students may demonstrate competency by:
    • Scoring higher than 55 on the Test of Spoken English offered by the Educational Testing Service ( ). This test is offered worldwide at regular intervals.
    • Scoring higher than 250 on the American English Oral Communicative Proficiency Test (AEOCP) oral proficiency test offered by Penn State University through the English as a Second Language (ESL) Program ( Students may take this test once. It is free of charge. If the AEOCP score is less than 250 or the TSE score is less than 55, you must take the ESL course(s) recommended by the ESL program. Depending on your score, you will need to take ESL courses until you obtain an “A” in ESL 118G. Thus, for a score between 230-249 (45-50 TSE), you will need to enroll in ESL 118G and obtain an “A” before you can teach. A score falling in the range of 200-229 (35-40 TSE) requires enrollment in ESL 117G. Below 200 (20-30 TSE), a student will need to take ESL 115G. Remember that only ESL 118G satisfies the English competency requirement so if you are required to take ESL 117G, you must receive an “A” in order to enroll in ESL 118G. See for a detailed description of the ESL courses required for each scoring range.
  • What happens if I fail the test?
    Until you attain the score required by the University (250 on AEOCP or 55 on TSE) or an “A” in ESL 118G, you may not lecture or make presentations to students enrolled in Penn State classes. Typically you will be assigned to duties that do not involve presentations, such as lab preparation. The department expects all students holding departmental assistantships to take the appropriate ESL classes so that they may undertake full TA duties by their second semester on assistantship.

B. Requirements and Duties of TA supervisors

The supervisor must prepare the TA for the assigned course in the following ways:

  1. Providing a copy of the syllabus and objectives.
  2. Discussing expectations, appropriate teaching methods, and grading policies with the TA.
  3. See that mentoring is provided from the instructor and/or an experienced TA.
  4. Provide constructive evaluation of the TA’s performance. Upon completion of the teaching experience, the instructor must write an evaluation of the student’s performance and give copies to the TA and to the department head. The letter should also describe the TA’s activities and accomplishments.