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Tips from Faculty Members

Get Ideas and Tips from Fellow TAs

By Dr. Muriel Gallego

This collection of tips offered by faculty members from different disciplines is designed to help Teaching Assistants navigate their graduate school experience and enhance their teaching and learning skills.

Browse through the list of tips to gather ideas from experienced faculty members.

Dr. Talinn Phillips, English

  • It's a lot easier to be a hardliner at the beginning of the semester and then lighten it up than it is to have the class get out of control because you've been too lenient and then have to crack down.
  • You'll save yourself a lot of drama and conflict by establishing clear policies (on attendance, assignment submission, academic dishonesty, late work, etc.) in your syllabus at the beginning of the semester.
  • Students often don't perform in the ways that we'd like, and this can make us frustrated and even angry. Find ways to genuinely like your students in spite of your frustrations. It's not fair, but students will penalize you if they feel that you don't like them. Avoid getting into an adversarial relationship with your students.
  • You will get lots of teaching tips and see all kinds of pedagogical styles in your teaching career. This is wonderful, but you still have to find your Teaching Self - a teacher who works from your own strengths and personality, not someone else's.

Dr. Mary Jane Kelley, Modern Languages

  • I think it's important to nip problems in the bud, so to speak. If any student, from day one, exhibits any behaviors that threaten to interfere with his or her getting the most out of class, the instructor needs to deal with it right away: passiveness and unwillingness to participate, unruly laughing or mocking, challenges, etc.

Dr. Nukhet Sandal, Political Sciences

  • Have one consistent email and check it regularly. I understand that my TAs have personal lives, but I would like to be able to reach them if there is an academic question or emergency.
  • Depending on the expectation of the class or professor, set your availability terms upfront and stick to them. If you are the one who will respond to student queries on an assignment, for example, tell them that you will get back to their queries in 24 hours and do that.
  • If you are not clear about any grading criteria or an aspect of your TA duties, check in with the professor. When you start working with the professor, ask him or her how he or she would prefer to be contacted if you have questions. Some prefer emails, some use phone, some prefer to have regular meetings.
  • If you have classroom time, please dress accordingly. You are a teaching professional in that classroom, and we would much prefer that you show it with your appearance.
  • Be professional in your correspondence and interactions with students. Do not make jokes, do not hang out with your students. And under no circumstances, criticize the professor in front of a student.
  • Have an upfront discussion with the professor about expectations and their teaching style. Also ask what to do in emergency situations, such as what to do if a student plagiarizes in an assignment; what to do if a student is constantly on their phone during a class; what to do if a student contests a grade.... Think about the possibilities that can happen and have a discussion. This will save you time.
  • If you are uncomfortable with any of your duties, tell the professor. For example, if you are not comfortable meeting with a student who is frustrated about his or her grade, tell your professor that if at all possible, you prefer not to have this conversation with that student.
  • If you foresee any absences or personal events during the semester, tell the professor in the very beginning and make arrangements. Except in the cases of emergency and medical issues, it is not professional to be away from the classroom duties with short notice.

Dr. Mariana Dantas, History

  • Always hand back assignments at the end of the class. Tell students you would be happy to meet with them to address questions or concerns, then either offer a specific time for that or ask them to contact you and set an appointment. Doing so will allow students with complaints about their grades to consider if there truly is merit to their complaint or if it is just frustration with their grade.
  • Have very clear policies about extra credit activities. Consider what you would be willing to offer as an extra credit activity and never let the student choose her or his own activity.
  • When meeting with a student who has a concern or complaint, always open the conversation noting a particular strength of that student. Offering a positive remark at the beginning of the conversation will make the student more willing to accept your constructive criticism