Feed on

Preparing for a new semester can be daunting, but dedicating some time to our teaching assistants (TAs) can be one of the most effective ways to save time and headache throughout the entirety of a course. We often overlook this support staff in favor of our own, more direct, preparatory responsibilities; however, an effective TA can be one of our most valuable resources. Below are some thoughts to consider as you schedule your first meeting with your TA. For you TAs out there, stay tuned for a companion post from the TA perspective (to be published later this semester).

Clear and Specific Communication

Whatever you do, do NOT assume that your TA knows what he/she is doing, even if they never reach out to ask. Often times it is the TA who is waiting for you to reach out with a list of responsibilities and duties. Discuss topics such as: main responsibilities (i.e., grading, office hours, guest lectures, etc.), relevant course policies (i.e., attendance, late assignment, and re-grades), course learning goals, student resources, additional TA resources, etc. It is also a good idea to ask your TA what he/she expects from the experience. Is there something he/she would like to get out of the semester for his/her own benefit. For example, some TA’s would love the opportunity to guest lecture, lead a discussion section, or obtain CIF’s for their future CV. Meeting before the semester starts and being open to their own desires can help foster a relationship built on mutual trust and respect.

Interactions in the Class

Having your TA active throughout aspects of the course empowers them and helps foster an engaging environment. It shows your students that you trust the TA, and that you want him/her to be an integral component to the class. It also helps the TA and students to build relationships which can help student attendance at TA office hours, recitations, discussion sections, etc. Lastly, frequent TA interactions foster peer learning between the students and TA, especially when the TA is also an undergraduate.

Build on your TA’s Strengths

Asking your TA about his/her strengths, skills, and interests will enable you to build upon those talents, and make the most of them. Knowing this information can help you structure their involvement to everyone’s benefit. It is also worth noting that many TAs, especially graduate students, have very valuable transferable skills such as problem-solving and critical-thinking abilities.

Provide Feedback

Everyone benefits from feedback, especially regarding teaching. Provide your TA with details about things that are going well. Do your best to remain positive and give clear requests. Constructive feedback, which helps your TA see the bigger picture of what you are trying to achieve, is most beneficial. If you are able to do so, ask your TA for his/her own feedback of yourself. Again, this can empower them in their teaching and foster mutual respect/trust.

These are just a few tips to help you and your TA get off on the right foot towards a successful semester. Stay tuned for a similar blog focusing on this topic from the TA perspective (to be published later this semester).


[1] How to Work With Your Teaching Assistant: It’s a Double Act. https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2013/sep/03/how-to-work-with-teaching-assistant

[2] Webster R., Russell A., Blatchford P., (2012).  Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants: Guidance for school leaders and teachers

Submitted by:

Carson Running

Ph.D. Candidate, Aerospace Engineering

University of Notre Dame

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