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Questions TAs Might Ask Their Supervisors

Misunderstandings occur between TA and professors when both take each other for granted and expect one to guess the needs and feelings of the other. Professors who have worked with many TAs sometimes assume every TA knows all of their wishes. And TAs who are new to a professor need to be told what is expected.

The most important element in a relationship between a TA and the faculty member responsible for the class is open communication. This should be established at the beginning of the semester and maintained throughout the course. TAs and professors should discuss the framework and the background of the course so that they can work together to teach the course more effectively. TAs should ask the professor for his or her decisions on many of the following matters before the course begins.

TA Responsibilities

  • Will I be lecturing?
    • On a regular basis? Occasionally? When the instructor is absent?
  • Will I be leading discussions?
    • On a regular basis? Occasionally? When the instructor is absent?
    • If yes, should I:
      • Stay close to the text or lectures?
      • Encourage all students to talk?
      • Do most of the talking?
      • Deal only with student questions?
  • Will I be tutoring and/or giving individual assistance?
    • How much help is too much?
    • What kind of assistance should I give?
  • Will I be holding review sessions?
  • Will I be conducting/supervising laboratories?
    • Obtaining and keeping track of supplies and materials?
    • Designing or revising experiments?
    • Giving demonstrations?
    • In case of emergency, what do I do?
  • Do I need to hold office hours?
    • If so, how many hours per week? When?
    • Should they be coordinated with the instructor’s?
  • Do I need to attend class?
  • Do I need to proctor the exams?
  • Will I be evaluating/grading papers, projects, reports, quizzes, exams, or student participation?
  • What are the criteria for assignment grades?
    • What is the process/formula for combining graded work to come up with a final course grade?
    • Will I be furnished with an answer key, or will I have to prepare one?
    • Are there any special instructions for the material that I am grading?
    • When grading homework, should I be concerned with the student’s approach to the problem or simply the final answer?
    • Can we discuss grading after I receive the first assignment?
    • Can I penalize students for sloppy work?
    • What do I do about grade protests? Will the instructor review disputed grades?
    • How much time will I have for grading?
    • Who records the grades?
    • Should I make two copies of all grades?
  • How much autonomy or latitude will I have?
    • To try things? To present new ideas?
    • To present perspectives different from the instructor?
  • What is the procedure in this department for handling student issues such as:
    • Plagiarism or cheating on tests?
    • Grade appeals?
    • Grievances?

Class Format

  • What exactly are the goals of the course?
    • Is it a prerequisite for future courses?
    • Is it a general education course for non-majors?
    • What particular skills and/or expertise is it intended to build?
  • Do I need to develop my own syllabus, or will one be provided?
  • Will I be expected to create and/or use a course site on OAK?
  • Will I be using AV material/equipment?
    • What equipment?
    • Am I responsible for getting and returning it? Whom do I call to schedule equipment?
  • Can students collaborate on homework/lab reports? How does the honor code pertain to my course? What do I do if I suspect someone of cheating?

Resources

  • Will you provide me with a textbook and/or other materials for the course?
  • Are there additional materials that would help prepare me for the course?
    • Texts? Manuals? Guides? Test items?
  • Where do I get supplies that I may need to perform my job (i.e., copying, enrollment sheets, etc.)?

Supervision

  • Who will supervise me? How? How often?
  • What should I do and whom should I contact if I can’t make a lab/discussion section?
  • How will I be evaluated? By whom? How will I be informed of the results of any evaluation?

Adapted from: Teaching Pedagogy to Teaching Assistants: A Handbook for 398T Instructors. Karron G. Lewis, ed., The Center for Teaching Effectiveness, The University of Texas at Austin, 1992.

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