Getting Started with Collaborating with Teaching Assistants

Working effectively with teaching assistants (TAs) benefits undergraduate students in their learning as well as graduate TAs in their development as teachers. TAs can also be valuable resources in the development of your course. The techniques below are just a few strategies that instructors have used to collaborate effectively with TAs.

Involve TAs in the Design & Delivery of the Course

  • Involve TAs in the course planning process and invite their input.
  • Introduce TAs to the class and explain their role in the course. Have TAs attend lectures regularly.
  • Ask TAs to periodically report on common issues students are having with the course.
  • Consult with TAs on the quality of your lectures. What works well? What might be more effective?

Highlight Expectations Early

  • Explain course objectives and learning outcomes.
  • Set up and communicate clear TA roles in working toward course goals.
  • Articulate TA tasks and timelines.

Training & Support

  • Arrange TA meetings at the beginning and throughout the semester to:
    • Discuss pedagogical approaches.
    • Share teaching strategies that engage and motivate students.
    • Reflect on potential or common problems with students in classes and office hours and discuss appropriate solutions.
    • Review best practices in asking and answering questions to promote student learning.
  • Establish a support system for potential student-TA conflicts.
  • Respond to emails from TAs in a timely manner.
  • Require students to take part in TA programs such as departmental TA training or the Center’s GET SET Workshops Series.
  • Encourage the formation of a teaching community. Use course learning technologies such as Blackboard to promote communication amongst TAs and to send them updates.

Establish & Maintain Clear Grading Guidelines 

  • Review or create rubrics together.
  • Calibrate with TAs by grading several assignments as a group.
  • Monitor for grade disparities between TAs by reviewing and comparing a selection of their assignments and have TAs do the same.
  • Ask TAs to report on the time it takes them to grade and handle student inquiries about grading. If time exceeds expectations, work with TAs on decreasing time required on tasks.

Evaluation & Development of Teaching

  • Conduct classroom observations to evaluate your TAs' teaching methods at the beginning, middle, and end of the semester.
    • Schedule a class observation and meet briefly for a pre-observation session to discuss what the TA would like you to observe.
    • Observe and take narrative notes.
    • Send the TA your notes.
    • Meet with the TA within 48 hours to debrief.
  • Introduce self-evaluation techniques such as keeping a reflective journal or analyzing videotaped classes that will help TAs develop their teaching style and perhaps create a teaching portfolio.
  • Encourage TAs to solicit feedback on their teaching by asking students to write main ideas of sessions on index cards or asking them to write a question that still remains.
  • Arrange for TAs to do peer observations of each other for peer feedback.
  • Invite TAs to prepare and teach a lecture. This will provide TAs with valuable experience and help faculty to provide a better analysis of a TA's teaching style.

Some Thoughts on TA Training & Advising

“[Teaching Assistants] worry about not knowing enough, about gaining student respect, and about balancing teaching with other time consuming demands (Svinicki, 1994). They sometimes feel they get too little guidance (Diamond & Gray, 1987). And, whether they know it or not, beginning teachers quickly form lasting styles and attitudes (Boice, 1996; McKeachie, 1994)” (Boyle & Boice, 1998, p. 157).

“GTA effectiveness can be improved through self-reflection and reflective practices, because they increase self-awareness and help in the recognition of things worth changing. One useful tool is the keeping of a diary or journal (Anon., 1995), in which the GTA logs not only their activities, but also their reflections on experiences, including the highs and lows, the successes and failures. Effective reflective activities—such as the analysis of videotaped teaching sessions, and sharing of ideas and feedback with peers and mentors—help the GTAs to evaluate the difference between their actual and theoretical teaching styles (Robinson et al., 1997)” (Park, 2004, p. 6).

“...[T]he process of teaching students engaged in inquiry provides practice in the application of important research skills. Using a performance rubric, we compared the quality of methodological skills demonstrated in written research proposals for two groups of early career graduate students (those with both teaching and research responsibilities and those with only research responsibilities) at the beginning and end of an academic year. After statistically controlling for preexisting differences between groups, students who both taught and conducted research demonstrate significantly greater improvement in their abilities to generate testable hypotheses and design valid experiments” (Feldon, Peugh, Timmerman, Maher, Hurst, Strickland & Stiegelmeyer, 2011, p. 1037).

Resources

Austin, A. E. (2002). Preparing the next generation of faculty. Journal of Higher Education, 73(1), 94-122.

Boyle, P., & Boice, B. (1998). Systemic mentoring for new faculty teachers and graduate teaching assistants. Innovative Higher Education, 22(3), 157-179.

Copland, S. (2009). Making it (new) as a graduate teaching assistant. Modernism/Modernity, 16(3), 485-489.

Ellis, D., & Griffin, G. (2000). Developing a teaching philosophy statement: A special challenge for graduate students. Journal of Graduate Teaching Assistant Development, 7(1), 85–89.

Feldon, D. F., Peugh, J., Timmerman, B. E., Maher, M. A., Hurst, M., Strickland, D., & Stiegelmeyer, C. (2011). Graduate students’ teaching experiences improve their methodological research skills. Science Magazine, 333(6045), 1037-1039.

Park, C. (2004). The graduate teaching assistant (GTA): Lessons from North American experience. Teaching in Higher Education, 9(3), 349-361.