With the recent changes to our legal-writing program, I’ve had a few queries about the role of teaching assistants in our program, mostly from folks who know we used to place heavy reliance on TAs.
Teaching assistants in the legal writing program here at Texas have an unusual name: Teaching Quizmasters or “TQs” as we call them. The name derives from a role assigned to select upper-class students to support faculty by giving quizzes to first-year students (I believe this began in the early 1900s). When Roy Mersky first started a research-and-writing program here (I believe this was in the 1970s), he revived the name.
For many years, TQs WERE the legal-writing program; there were no writing lecturers. Even once a handful of faculty came on board, the TQs still did most of the instruction (in small groups) and most of the commenting on papers. TQs also served as de facto mentors and social directors for their assigned students. That was the situation when I began teaching at Texas in 1992: I supervised 16 TQs and had 240 students.
There’s an interesting, unusual, and sometimes painful story behind all this, and I should probably write it down someday . . . but for now, I’ll simply and happily note that yes, the TQs still exist. This last year I had 3 TQs and 46 students. But the TQ role has changed.
They no longer do classroom instruction (faculty do all that) or serve as social directors (there’s a separate group of students for that now). Today, TQs are traditional, academic teaching assistants who check research exercises, meet with students to talk about writing, and support the full-time faculty. For example, about a month ago I had my TQs sit with me in panels to hear oral arguments. A very good experience.
The TQ name is well known among UT Law alumni and is rightfully accorded a measure of respect among our graduates. In fact, 4 of our current writing lecturers were TQs. Two of my TQs this year were on law review, and both are seeking (and are likely to get) federal clerkships.
Filed under: Teaching Legal Writing