Why teaching assistants should focus on their PhD and ditch the classroom.
Being a student of modern foreign languages, the issue of PhD teachers concerns me somewhat. In my first year, I was taught by PhD teachers for 2 of the most important aspects of learning a language; translation, and more importantly, grammar. Currently I am in my second year of a 4-year course, and a PhD teacher teaches me for my translation class (Russian grammar has been abandoned as a class in its own right and is now merged with the 4 existing modules).
My main problem with the concept of PhD teachers is quite simply the fact that they are not always qualified teachers. Our classes are not their priority; they play a secondary role to the vigorous and intensive demands of a PhD. Most of our translations consist of BBC articles and monotonous scrutiny of vocabulary from the text.
Most of the PhD teachers I have encountered base their studies on topics non-related to the language they are teaching. I appreciate these people have degrees that involve the Russian language (or they are native speakers), and I do not doubt their knowledge of said language. However, if we were to flip the situation, just because I am English (ish) does not mean that I can legitimately teach English. One teacher of mine was doing a PhD on political science, another on The Demonic aspect of Nabokov; all interesting subjects, not relevant to teaching a language however.
The way to remedy this problem is quite simple, and I believe there are two possible solutions, which could work. Surely the logical thing to do would be for these PhD teachers to receive some formal training by the University, or be required to undertake a crash-course at least. The second option is to leave the language classes to professional language teachers, which would be the most beneficial option for us.
By no means is this a criticism of the PhD student teachers, they are the victims in this situation. They are thrown into teaching students like us, hence not surprising that these people are uninspiring to say the least. They are overwhelmed with work (their own choice), and having the added pressure of teaching classes just results in quite a miserable experience for all involved. We pay (extortionate) fees for a reason and I believe that ultimately, trained professionals who know the best methods of teaching should educate us. We have worked hard (also ish) in the run up to Uni, and we would have hoped that our hard work rewarded by quality teaching that supplements our interest in the subject. This is not the case however, and PhD student teachers, with their disinterested, distant nature in the classroom, can hardly expect us to trust them with our education.