Working with Your TAs

6 Key Areas for TA Training & Development

ROLES & RESPONSIBILITIES

  1. Review with your course TAs the Big Picture: what are the key learning objectives of the course?
  2. What are your goals and the student learning outcomes for any tutorials/labs associated with the course?
  3. What kinds of teaching approaches will your TAs be using in the tutorials/labs? What kinds of learning activities will they be expected to lead with students? (NOTE: this will help you decide what training your TAs should receive—see point 3.a.ii. below.)
  4. How do TAs fit into the course as a whole? How does their work help build towards course objectives?
  5. For which portion(s) of the course are TAs directly responsible?
  6. For what elements of student support or student skills development are TAs responsible? (i.e. writing skills? research skills? should they refer students who are in difficulty or crisis, and if so, how and where?)
  7. What are the students responsible for doing?
  8. What are your obligations towards the TAs?

BOUNDARIES

  1. Discuss limitations of TA role.
  2. TAs should not be re-lecturing course material – they are not yet professors nor are they different versions of you!
  3. TAs cannot go “rogue” and change due dates or design tests or assignments on their own without consulting you (explain there are clear procedures for diverging from a syllabus and they must avoid doing so).
  4. TAs are not allowed to handle cases of suspected plagiarism, so let them know what the process is if they encounter it.
  5. Provide guidance on how to establish and maintain boundaries with students.
  6. Advise that they should inform you immediately if there is a possible conflict of interest between them and a student (e.g., personal relationship with someone in the course).
  7. Discuss their working relationship with you and the Course Coordinator (if applicable).

DESCRIPTION OF DUTIES – QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER WHEN DRAWING UP TO THE LIST OF YOUR DUTIES FOR YOUR TAs

Training

  1. 3-hour employment training is mandatory in first TA appointment at U of T; first-time Course Instructors are to receive 6 hours of training.
  2. TAs who lead tutorials or labs must now receive training that is directly relevant for the instructional focus of the tutorial or lab. This means that you should identify which of the University’s  4 tutorial categories your TAs should be trained in: discussion teaching, skill development, review, lab/practical.
  3. Course-specific information should be provided in a pre-course meeting (this meeting should be indicated in their contract, as should all course-specific meetings).
  4. Will there be any additional training required? (depends on contract).
  5. Relevant, key departmental, divisional and institutional policies and procedures must be communicated to TAs – when the TAs receive this information either at the mandatory training session or the pre-course meeting, have them sign for receipt of any hard copy information.
  6. Consider getting a senior TA involved in training and pre-course meeting, if possible.

Preparation

  1. Clarify what TAs are expected to already know.
  2. Prep time covers preparation of instructional materials, not learning of subject content.
  3. How much time should it take to prepare a typical lab/tutorial section/class?
  4. How much time should it take to prepare a quiz/test/essay question/exam?
  5. Provide strategies for time management (both in terms of preparing a realistic amount of material for a set amount of time, and managing time while teaching within a section or lab).
  6. If possible, provide a sample lesson plan or a sample assignment to use as a model.

Contact – describe what counts as “contact time” with students

  1. How and when are office hours to be conducted, if applicable? What should happen during office hours?
  2. Consider out-of-the-classroom contact (can TAs meet with students in cafes or in the library to review class material)?
  3. Virtual contact: how much email is too much email? Can TAs grade assignments that are submitted via email attachments? Are TAs even expected to correspond with students via email? A specific time limit on e-mail use would be helpful.
  4. Will TAs be required to attend lectures? If so, this must be included in the DDAH (Description of Duties and Allocation of Hours form).

Grading

  1. Provide explicit instructions and guidelines for evaluation of assignments.
  2. If applicable, provide a rubric.
  3. If possible, provide a sample graded assignment (either use an anonymized copy from a former student in the course, or invent your own with comments).
  4. If possible, run a group grading session before TAs must mark the 1st assignment or exam; get TAs to mark the assignment first individually and then come together to discuss the comments and grades given—TAs should explain and justify their feedback and marks.

Other Duties

  1. Exam invigilation/proctoring.
  2. Designing the mid-term or final exam.
  3. Assignment or test design.
  4. Management of discussion or student questions on the portal (Blackboard).
  5. Working as a “Lead TA”.
  6. Preparation of study guides or manuals for students.
  7. Uploading information into the portal (e.g. grades) or management of course materials in the portal.
  8. Photocopying.


EXPECTATIONS

  1. Your expectations regarding TAs’: preparedness, content competence, overall professionalism (punctuality, etc.), conduct with other TAs in the team, conduct in class, conduct outside of class, quality of feedback given to students, availability/responsiveness.
  2. Your expectations for students: in-class conduct, how students should progress through the course (what are potential blocks that you might anticipate?), your definition of “student success”.
  3. What TAs should expect from students: let the TAs know what kinds of students they’ll be working with in this course.
  4. What the TAs can expect from you.

COMMUNICATION

  1. How will you stay in touch with your TAs?
  2. Mass emails?
  3. Portal community set up for course TAs?
  4. Online newsletter?
  5. How often should you check in with them and they with you?
  6. How should TAs communicate with students? (What constitutes acceptable or unacceptable discourse?)
  7. TAs should acknowledge all course information and official documents received—if possible, in writing.

 

EMAIL ETIQUETTE (does your department have a specific email policy?)

  1. Recommend TAs adopt office email etiquette-assume that messages are public and could be read by anyone; all messages should have a professional tone; messages should be brief.
  2. TAs should acknowledge ALL emails from you and from their students-they don’t need to answer every message, but a brief acknowledgement should be sent.
  3. Recommend to TAs that they:
    – be concise, polite
    – avoid teaching complex or well-lectured material via email
    – never argue via email
    – never give out grades via email (or discuss grades at all)

ADDITIONAL SUPPORT – SOME OPTIONS

  1. If at all possible, share your lesson plans, representative teaching materials, and best strategies.
  2. Encourage TAs to also share their materials-perhaps build a course repository for instructors.
  3. Provide a list of useful websites and resources, as well as a list of contacts.
  4. For international TAs, provide a list of “gambits”, sentence fragments (teaching phrases) they can use in specific situations when speaking with students.
  5. Also for international TAs, provide a list of vocabulary or terms useful for teaching in your discipline.
  6. Perform in-class observations for your TAs and invite them to observe you teaching.
  7. Organize informal gatherings (brown-bag or pizza lunches, coffee breaks) for TAs to vent frustrations and raise issues, concerns, questions.
  8. Invite senior TAs to pair up with junior TAs (the “buddy” system).
  9. Identify a mentor in the department for you (a senior colleague with experience managing a TA)!

Questions regarding the CUPE 3902 Unit 1 collective agreement should be directed to the 
Designated Authority in your department or to Labour Relations.