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Abstract

In universities across the United States, an increasing number of departments are turning to graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) to teach introductory courses. As GTAs assume a larger percentage of university teaching responsibilities, it becomes even more important to understand the tensions and challenges that GTAs face. The majority of research on GTAs focuses on the perceptions of students and GTA supervisors, and few researchers have talked directly to GTAs. This research fills that gap by studying the GTA experience from the GTA perspective. Using relational dialectics theory, this study identifies three key tensions that emerge from GTAs’ stories about role conflict and identity management: distance-closeness, perfect teacherperfect student, and structure-freedom. Further, it analyzes the strategies GTAs use to manage and negotiate these tensions. After discussing the implications that these tensions have for GTAs and supervisors, the study offers suggestions for coping with tensions constructively. Finally, since these tensions can influence GTAs’ future careers as educators, this study concludes by considering the broader implications of these tensions for students and teachers.