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Words of Advice the Teaching Assistant

Some of the varied roles for the Teaching Assistant  (These are not exhaustive)

1) Mediator between student and professor/instructor

2) Facilitator of sections or tutorials; both as an authority figure and as a grader

3) Counselor /mentor (this is ad hoc and will vary for Teaching Assistants)

4) Employee of the department and university

5) Employee of the instructor of record (you report to the him/her)

Preparing for lecture and grading will be the most time-consuming as a TA. Depending on your department culture your office hours could be busy or you may never see a student. Use the office hours to prep for tutorial or grade.

The 3 Cs of professionalism as a Teaching Assistant: competence, confidence and (student) centeredness.

You should walk into the classroom knowing that you are competent, as your department chose you out of a large pile of applicants! Because of this—be confident. And, once you in the classroom remember that the tutorial is about the students and their understanding of the course material (student centeredness).

Things to ask the instructor who you are reporting to: how do they see your role as a Teaching Assistant in the class? What is her/his policy regarding academic dishonesty? Hopefully, you will have regular meetings with the instructor about assignments and the material that the instructor expects you to cover during the tutorials. Will the instructor allow you to offer a mini-lecture or facilitate an extra workshop about writing or an assignment?

You should remember that as a Teaching Assistant you need to effectively facilitate discussion among all the students in the tutorial. With this in mind, watch gestures, metaphors and all comments in class. Try to avoid sports metaphors as they might not make sense to international students or other students who do not follow said sport. Make sure that you are fair to all the students and encourage everyone to participate. This might mean asking one “keen” student to allow others to participate. However, if you do this in a polite manner it should not be a problem.

Whenever you have questions, always go to the instructor. The instructor is really meant to mentor you in your role as an apprentice educator. You are still learning and this will mean that sometimes you do not have all the answers. (Frankly, the instructors are still learning, too!)

My last word of advice—always go to tutorial prepared and professional. This does not mean that you have to purchase an expensive new wardrobe, but do dress appropriately for the department culture. Have fun! You have the lucky position of playing an important role in a student’s life. If you do a good to great job, chances are the students will learn lots and remember you fondly.

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