Thursday, January 21, 2021

How to be a Successful MALAS Graduate Student and MAYBE Have a Shot at a TAship!!!!

updated 1/22/21

How to be a Successful MALAS Graduate Student and MAYBE Have a Shot at a TAship!!!!

Ozzie Monge, MALAS alumni

Ah, the life of an interdisciplinary student!  We lucky MALASheads have the university as our intellectual smorgasbord, feeding our insatiable curiosities by sampling from the courses that are offered.  But this blessing might also be a bit of a curse for those who wish to pursue a future in teaching.  Arguably, having experience as a Graduate Teaching Assistant is a fine addition to any CV for those who wish to one day become a professor.  Traditionally, the Graduate TA works with undergraduates from the same discipline, and usually there is a “department” associated with that discipline.  MALAS does not have a corresponding undergraduate program where a MALAS head can TA, which raises the question:  what options are there for those of us MALAScriados who wish to gain teaching experience?

Fortunately, there are options out there.  For example, there are a few programs on campus which have the opposite problem, that is to say they lack a graduate component.  You can potentially befriend the faculty from that department and, over time, demonstrate your ability to be a capable TA.  This is a bit more difficult in that they would likely have to justify the creation of the TA position, not an impossible task but certainly not a very straightforward one.  Some departments to consider include: American Indian Studies, Africana Studies, Religious Studies, Chicana/o Studies, and Classics & Humanities.

Let me tell you about the path I chose to take…

There is a department on campus that has an ongoing need for graduate TA’s and accepts applications from across the disciplines (and you don’t get much more “across the disciplines” than MALAS):  The Rhetoric and Writing Studies Department!

Almost every incoming freshman is required to take a developmental writing course at SDSU.  That typically is RWS 100 one semester, followed by RWS 200 the next.  Many of these classes are taught by graduate student Teaching Assistants (TAs). The TAs are limited to a class size of 25.  When you consider the amount of incoming freshmen at SDSU in any given year (approximately 3,700), you’ll understand why there is a need for so many TAs to teach these required classes.  Each TA is assigned a class of no more than 25 students.

So, how do you become a TA?  There is an application process! But before we get to that…

There is also a required class, RWS 609, Theory and Practice of Teaching Composition, in which you must enroll before you will be offered TA contract.  You can enroll in this class during the same timeframe that you intend to apply for a TA position (for the next semester).  That is to say, you don’t have to take the class and wait until the following semester to apply – which would result in you waiting for nearly a whole year (although if that’s what you want to do, you can).  To clarify what I am saying, let me share the application deadlines from this year:

·      October 26 (to apply to teach in Spring)
·      March 01 (to apply to teach in Fall)

So it is completely possible for an incoming, first year MALAS student to take RWS 609 during their first fall semester, apply during that semester while still taking the course, and teach an RWS 100 class in the spring semester (assuming their application is accepted). 

Here’s the catch:  taking the class does not necessarily guarantee that you will be brought on as a TA, so it is a gamble in that you will have potentially “wasted” 3 units, and the money to pay for those 3 units.  Bear that in mind, but do not let it discourage you.

Also, there is a greater demand for RWS 100 TAs in the fall semester, than there are in the spring.  There are fewer RWS 100 classes offered in the spring, typically for those who had to take the non-credit bearing RWS 92A, and some of the TAs who have already been offered contracts may opt to teach two classes during their second semester.  Therefore, it may make more sense for an incoming MALAS student to take RWS 609 and apply during their spring semester, which is precisely what I did.

Now, back to the application process…

Once you have enrolled in RWS 609, the next step will be to prepare your application.  You will need to submit the following:
  • ·      An application form
  • ·      Transcripts
  • ·      Three current letters of recommendation that will be sent directly to the DRWS office.
  • ·      A statement of purpose
  • ·      A writing sample of about five pages of expository prose

The application form is straightforward.  You can download it from the DRWS web site. 

Transcripts are rather self-explanatory as well.  And, yes, they do include your undergraduate record. They do not require formal transcripts – a print out from the SDSU Web Portal was sufficient for their needs.  Fortunately (for me), the transcripts themselves do not appear to be a heavily weighted determining factor in the application process.  Let’s just say that my undergraduate performance a few decades back was less than ideal. However, my performance in graduate school, which is of course far more recent, had to be above the 3.0 threshold that they require of TAs.

I will say this about the letters of recommendation:  do not wait until the last minute to request them.  And if it is at all possible, seek them from professors on campus who have had an opportunity to get to know you and your writing abilities, and of course have a favorable view of both you and your skills.

Your statement of purpose relates why you want to teach RWS 100, not why you want to teach in general. I’ll say it again: this is about WHY you are so passionate about teaching the RWS 100 developmental writing class, and NOT about why you’d like to teach, in general.

The writing sample must be expository in nature. It cannot be that amazing sonnet you wrote nor an excerpt from the Great American Novel you’ve been working.  I would recommend that you use a paper that you wrote at SDSU for which you earned an A.  I also recommend that you request one of your letters of recommendation from the professor for who you wrote the paper.

Rather than continue to explain the process further, I will direct you again to the DRWS’s web page that explains their TA program.  The entire URL is:

If you do have any questions at all, or would like some assistance in preparing your application, I will happily make myself available to you.  Just get in touch with me via and we’ll go from there.  Good luck!

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