Are you going to have TAs for one of your classes this semester? Or will you be a TA? Before the harried first week of class, sit down to talk through these few key questions to set mutual expectations for faculty and TAs:
1. What is your teaching philosophy? What are the learning goals of the course?
Make sure you are on the same page with regard to the goals of the course. This clarity will help prevent misunderstandings and allow TAs to make confident on-the-spot decisions. TAs can also help to reinforce the course goals to students (and perhaps explain them in more accessible terms).
2. What are your preferred forms of communication?
Email? Weekly meetings? Who will handle various categories of student communication (e.g. attendance, content questions, or grade inquiries)?
3. What are your interests and strengths? What are your weaknesses or concerns?
Where can the TAs and instructors profitably share their expertise? Maybe the TA has lots of ideas for active learning activities or can give a lecture on the topic of their research. Or perhaps the TA has been assigned outside their subfield and will require extra help understanding certain concepts before teaching them.
4. What is the role of TAs during lectures?
Will you take attendance, and if so, whose responsibility is it? TAs who only teach weekly can benefit from taking attendance in lecture to learn their students’ names more quickly.
Where should the TA sit? In the back to enforce a no cell phone policy? In the front to help to distribute handouts? In many situations, it can be helpful for a TA to choose different seats throughout the semester to help understand and guide the class dynamic. By choosing a particular seat, a TA can break up a clique or encourage that quiet back corner of the room to participate more in discussion. Or a TA could determine whether that pair of students who talks frequently during lecture is bored or whether they are struggling to clarify points of content.
Will TAs participate in the course? Should they selectively model good discussion behaviors? What should the TAs do during active learning activities?
5. What teaching role(s) does the TA have?
Will the TA have an opportunity to give lectures (or at least mini-lectures)? How much independence will the TA have in setting the agenda for discussions or labs? Will TAs help to write exams?
How will the TA experience contribute to the graduate student’s professional development?
6. How will grading work be divided? What are the grading policies?
Discuss the workload of grading at the beginning of the semester while you have time to plan ahead or even make tweaks to the syllabus.
Laying out grading policies during the first week will clarify the TA’s role to the students and promote confidence in the fairness of the system. Will you use rubrics to speed up the process and ensure consistency across graders? Will the faculty review the TA’s grading before returning material to students? How will you handle grade appeals for TA-graded work?
7. Have you worked out the logistics for the first week?
Do the TAs have the texts or other materials for the course? Do they have appropriate access to the InsideND or Sakai pages? Do they have access to a photocopier that does not require them to use their personal print quota?
Plan to have the TAs introduce themselves to the students on the first day. Be explicit about the role of the TA and what kinds of concerns the TA will handle. Also be clear about how students should refer to their TA: many first-year students find it uncomfortable to call a TA by their first name without explicit permission to do so. Add the TA contact information to the syllabus.
If a TA holds their own labs or discussion sections, we suggest they produce their own policy sheet or syllabus. Include the TA contact details, the goals and teaching philosophy for that portion of the class, and any particular policies or rules. This sheet will provide a quick reference and underscore the seriousness of that portion of the class to students.