Working with Teaching Assistants

Effective training and advising of teaching assistants (TAs) benefits both the students in their learning and TAs in their professional development.

Why Work with TAs?

The ideal TA–faculty member partnership results in:

  • More individualized attention both in and outside of class for undergraduate students. 
  • Professional development for TAs (Feldon , Peugh, Timmerman, Maher, Hurst, Strickland & Stiegelmeyer, 2011).
  • Invaluable course support for faculty members, allowing for greater focus on teaching and designing the course.

Considerations for Working with TAs

Like all interpersonal and professional relationships, there may be some common challenges to address (Nilson, 2010):

  • Faculty may lack supervisory training.
  • TAs may be too intimidated to ask questions.
  • Faculty or TAs may not be able or willing to dedicate the time required to collaborate effectively.
  • TAs may be unprepared to teach.

Getting Started with Working with TAs

Before the course begins:

  • Plan tasks and objectives for your TAs to accomplish in your class.
  • Develop and agree upon a comprehensive training program and plan regular follow-up meetings. Review professional development opportunities for TA's that the Center has to offer.
  • Review your syllabus to identify ways that your TAs might help you understand the needs of the students.
  • Ask TAs for input in the course design process.
  • Clearly explain course objectives and learning outcomes to TAs.
  • Communicate TA roles and expectations clearly.
  • Set expectations for your TAs such as how and why TAs will interact with the students. Review this with them at the first meeting.
  • If working with multiple TAs, ensure the division of work is fair. 
  • Establish and maintain clear grading guidelines.
  • Ensure TAs know how use technologies used in class.

During the course:

  • Hold regular check-in meetings.
  • Remain available and approachable.
  • Establish a support system for TAs.
  • Conduct classroom observations and encourage peer review to promote TAs professional development as instructors.
  • Invite TAs to teach a class.
  • Have TAs attend lectures to help with facilitating learning activities.
  • Ask TAs for feedback on your course by summarizing common questions students are asking or by sharing observations of your teaching.
  • Check in to see how long tasks are actually taking compared to how long TAs are expected to dedicate to said tasks. Adjust tasks and expectations accordingly.
  • Ensure TAs are treated fairly in the work hours they are responsible for, compared to the hours they are actually working.

References

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. 

Nilson, L. B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (3rd ed.).San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.