Teaching Assistantships are both an invaluable resource for instructors teaching classes of all sizes and a vital experience for students to hone their teaching and management skills. Since Teaching Assistants (TAs) are at the forefront of class interaction, they often have a significantly impact on student learning.
For many instructors, when COVID-19 forced the switch to remote teaching, TAs had a major hand in the quick and successful pivot. By taking the time to plan out how you will work with your TAs as their manager and their mentor, you can maximize your TAs’—as well as the class’—success. Below is a list of considerations when working with your TAs.
Before the Semester
The 2-3 weeks before the semester starts is a vital time to prepare with your TAs. Unlike students working in your own lab, TAs may not have expertise in all the areas covered in your subject. It may be that TAs are randomly assigned, there are no TA candidates from a disciplinary background matching the course, or they are first-years. Spend time with your TAs to discuss the scope of the role(s), expectations of their work and conduct, and official or “unspoken” policies. TAs are balancing the short-term needs of essentially an apprenticeship with the long-term needs of their graduate program. You can reduce their stress of juggling both needs by clarifying how best to prepare and what kind of routine to expect.
- Roles: Are your TA(s) graders, recitation leaders, lab instructors, or a combination? Are they leading other TAs as a Head TA?
- Preparation: Share course materials with TAs so they can become familiar with the topics, assignments, and schedule, including logistical deadlines if they are creating homework or exam questions and grading. Encourage them to attend training to develop their teaching skills, which may be offered in the department or through the TLL.
- Policies: Will TAs need to track their hours? What feedback and grading policies should they follow? What types of student questions are in their scope versus should be delegated to the faculty to answer? If multiple faculty are co-teaching, who does the TA report to? These policies and expectations may be written into a TA Contract.
- Pedagogical methods: Discuss your educational philosophies with your TA so that they understand the rationale behind your course policies and pedagogical methods. You may co-create a teaching methods rubric for the TA to refer to later.
- Emergency plan: COVID-19 has taught us to expect the unexpected. Consider what steps you and your TA would take in the case of an emergency causing great disruption to the class, and discuss this plan with your TA.
During the Semester
Receiving pertinent and timely feedback is critical to learning. For your TAs to grow and excel, they will need guidance throughout the semester on educational philosophies and effective approaches. To help shape your TA’s expectations, you can provide a rubric of effective teaching skills and other professional behaviors before discussing feedback on their performance. This may be the rubric co-developed with the TA before the semester started.
- Frequent (weekly) check-ins: Review grading and feedback on assignments to confirm alignment. Review what went well and what could be improved based on your assessment of students’ learning outcomes. Plan for next week’s goals and logistics of activities to be implemented.
- Mentorship: Occasionally sit in on their teaching to give personalized feedback on teaching skills and professional behaviors to encourage continual improvement throughout the semester.
After the Semester
The end of the semester is a time to reflect on what went according to plan, what didn’t, and any pleasant surprises. Especially if this is a recurring course, now is the time to plan with your TA how the course can continue to improve next time. Whether the TA plans to go into academia or down another career path, the insight you can share on the TA’s growth and ways to improve their performance continually will greatly help. The time and effort you put into helping your TA grow can also directly benefit you if the TA works for you again in the future.
- Performance feedback: Discuss a summative assessment of TA’s progress in teaching and other professional behaviors and possible next steps for continuing their advancement.
- Assess class outcomes: Assess successes and areas for improvement in course design based on the class’s intended learning outcomes.
- Revisit TA Contract: Review your TA Contract, if used, to determine necessary changes such as areas of responsibilities, amount of hours worked versus expectation, etc.