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University of Massachusetts Amherst

University of Massachusetts Amherst

English Department

Graduate Assistantships

Writing Program

Most graduate students begin teaching in our nationally recognized Writing Program.  The Writing Program offers teaching associateships in two freshman writing classes, Basic Writing and College Writing.  Some sections of these courses may be designed and taught as computer-assisted writing classes.  Class size is 15 students and the courses focus on the students' experience of the writing process; teaching methods include workshops, multiple drafts, peer response and evaluation, and individual conferences with the instructor.  Admission to teach in the Writing Program is competitive: graduate students must fill out an application, provide supporting materials, and be interviewed by members of the Writing Program staff. For more information and the application form, see

English and American Literature

Most graduate students teach for two years in the Writing Program. After that period, students are eligible to apply for a teaching associateship in the English department. During the academic year, graduate students work as teaching assistants in large lecture courses such as Society and Literature; Gender, Sexuality, Literature, and Culture; Shakespeare; Representing the Holocaust; and Studies in Modern Fiction. Usually after some experience as a teaching assistant, graduate students can apply to teach their own General Education course: possibilities include American Experience; Ethnic American Literature; Society and Literature; Gender, Sexuality, Literature, and Culture; Reading Drama; and World Literature in English. Class size is approximately 35 students, and instructors have considerable latitude in designing their own syllabi within the General-Education guidelines. Students are also eligible to teach courses through the Department of Continuing Education which offers courses during Winter Session (January), Summer Session (June-July/Jul-August) and in the evenings during the academic terms. The Director of Graduate Studies is responsible for making all teaching appointments in English. Appointments, as in the Writing Program, are by application.

Pedagogical Training

One of the special features of our graduate program is its attention to pedagogical practice and training. Graduate students leave our program as well-trained, experienced, and sophisticated professional instructors of literature and composition. They receive consistent and on-going contact with faculty mentors and teachers, and they are regularly evaluated on the teaching skills they are learning in the program. Entering graduate students who have been awarded a TO in the Writing Program meet for a one-week, intensive training session before the semester begins each fall. They are provided with a program syllabus which they can follow outright or adapt to their own uses.

Throughout the academic year, TOs in the Writing Program meet in a bi-weekly Course Directors' Group led by one of the faculty or staff specialists in Composition and Rhetoric. These small groups provide an on-going space in which to discuss assignments, classroom challenges, problem students, pedagogical practice and theory, and anything else pertaining to student teaching. The faculty or staff group leader visits the student's classroom once each semester and writes a report about the student's teaching. This report is kept on file and frequently used when students enter the job market. English Department literature TOs also meet in a General Education Course Directors' Group led by a faculty member in English and devoted specifically to issues faced in the multicultural classroom. Meeting once a month, this group also discusses syllabi choices, specific assignments, and the challenges posed by a non-English cohort in a literature class. The Course Director visits the graduate student Teaching Associate's class three times during his/her first two years of teaching.  These class observations along with each semester's course evaluations provide an opportunity for the Teaching Associate and Course Director to discuss and reflect on best teaching practices.

Research Assistantships

RAs are offered with two journals, The Sidney Journal and English Literary Renaissance. Both are associated with the Massachusetts Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies.

Assistantship Remuneration
In the Department of English, a full teaching assistantship is considered a two-course load per year (one course each semester); in the Writing Program a full load is three courses per year (one in one term, two in the other). In 2014, teaching assistants earned approximately $17,300, along with full tuition and curriculum fee waivers and health and other benefits. Half teaching and research assistantships also carry a tuition and fee waiver.