How to Enhance the Teaching Competencies of Your TAs

Professional Development Opportunities

An important strategy that can enhance the overall effectiveness of your teaching team is to encourage the professional development of your TAs. This can build a sense of community and community of practice within your teaching team.

Teaching Assistants’ Training Program (TATP): The TATP offers two certificate programs (the Teaching Fundamentals Certificate and the Advanced University Teaching Preparation Certificate); in-class observation and microteaching sessions; individual confidential consultations; numerous resources in the Teaching Toolkit; and workshops that focus on various aspects of teaching.

The TATP seeks to prepare graduate students and teaching assistants for the realities and demands of teaching by providing a peer-based support network. Pedagogical training is an essential step in the professional development of graduate students in a variety of careers paths whether that be academe or other professional options.

School of Graduate Studies offers resources and support for U of T graduate students interested in pursuing more professional development opportunities.

Provide Feedback

Provide feedback to your TAs on their teaching: An in-class observation can provide your TAs with a perspective on their teaching and is one of the most effective ways of giving direct feedback in order to improve their teaching performance in the classroom.

You could provide comments on (although this is not an exhausted listed):

  • their organizational skills and the clarity of their lesson
  • their oral presentation skills
  • their rapport with students
  • their use of teaching aids
  • the overall impact of their teaching performance

The assessment form can become a part of their Teaching Dossier and will be of great benefit when they are applying for teaching positions. This process also allows you to have a detailed conversation with your TAs about their teaching strengths and areas that might need improvement in a supportive environment.

It is important that you conduct in-class observation in a positive and supportive manner. Teaching observations could begin with a self-reflection. Consider using a process like Weimer et al.’s How Am I Teaching?, a quick way for you and your TAs to reflect and illustrates how many physical attributes in teaching are unconscious.

  1. What do you do with your hands? Gesture? Keep them in your pockets? Hold onto the podium? Play with the chalk or clicker? Hide them so students won’t see them shake?
  2. Where do you stand or sit? Behind the podium? On the table?
  3. When do you move to a different location? Never? At regular ten-second intervals? When you change topics? When you need to write something on the board?
  4. Where do you move? Back behind the podium? Out to the students? To the blackboard?
  5. Where do your eyes most often focus? On your notes? On the board/screen? Out the window? On a spot on the wall in the back of the classroom? On the students? Could you tell who was in class today without having taken roll?
  6. What do you do when you finish one content segment and are ready to move on to the next? Say OK? Ask if there are any questions? Erase the board? Move to a different location? Make a verbal transition?
  7. When do you speak louder/softer? When the point is very important? When nobody seems to understand? When nobody seems to be listening?
  8. When do you speak faster/slower? When an idea is important and you want emphasize it? When you are behind where you ought to be on the content? When students are asking questions you’re having trouble answering?
  9. Do you laugh or smile in class? When? How often?
  10. How do you use examples? How often do you include them? When do you include them?
  11. How do you emphasize main points? Write them on the board/screen? Say them more than once? Ask the students if they understand them? Suggest ways they might be remembered?
  12. What do you do when students are inattentive? Ignore them? Stop and ask questions? Interject an anecdote? Point out the consequences of not paying attention? Move out toward them?
  13. Do you encourage student participation? How? Do you call on students by name? Do you wait for answers? Do you verbally recognize quality contributions? Do you correct student answers? On a typical day, how much time is devoted to student talk?
  14. How do you begin/end class? With a summary and conclusion? With a preview and a review? With a gasp and a groan? With a bang and a whimper?

Taken from: M. Weimer, Joan L. Parrett and Mary-Margaret Kerns (2002), How do I teach? Forms and activities for acquiring instructional input, Madison: Atwood Publishing.

This instrument was developed by the authors. It may be copied, altered, or adapted by instructors using the form to acquire instructional input.

“I” Statement Based Feedback

Before coming into the tutorial to observe your TAs, make sure to have a conversation about their plan to teach, context for the tutorial, and their concerns. Couch your comments as formative (rather than summative) feedback. The aim is to identify strengths and areas for enhancement, and to provide motivation to improve.

To avoid judging your TA’s performance, make your feedback descriptive (e.g., “I noticed…”; “I felt…”; etc.) and not prescriptive (e.g., “You should have done this…”; “Don’t ever do that…”; etc.).

“I was able to follow your explanation even though I don’t know calculus.”

Realistic and concrete
“I liked it when you showed us how to use the instruments before you asked us to set up the experiment. This gave me confidence to complete the experiment.”

Motivating and informative
“I would have liked to see you provide a different kind of example – I’m wondering if an analogy would have worked here?”

Clarifying and questioning
“I thought that ‘officious’ meant bossy, but you used it as a political term. What does it mean in this context?”
Follow-up question: “Has this particular use of the term been clarified for your students?”


Subjective and evaluative
“Your explanation was good (or bad).”

Idealistic and abstract
“You should give a pre-lab talk—they really work.”

Demanding and self-important
“You should learn to use better examples.”

Confusing or ambiguous; can promote resistance
“Your lesson would have been better if you had included an explanation of the emergence of officious sites.”

Border originally adapted this information from the following:
Knoll, M.K. (1987). Supervision for Better Instruction. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, p. 211.

CTSI adapted this document in turn from Border’s manual:
Border, L.B. (2008). Lead Graduate Teacher Manual, Graduate Teacher Program, University of Colorado at Boulder, p. 199.

You could also review the Peer Observation of Teaching Guide, in particular, Part III: Tools and Instruments for Observation.

Teaching Assistants' Training Program

For information on graduate student and Teaching Assistant professional development and job training, please visit the TATP for resources, events and more.

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