1. TA duties
  2. Defining the TA’s role
  3. Working effectively with TAs: A checklist

Based on the number of students enrolled in your courses, you may be assigned one or more teaching assistants. Your departmental chair/director (or in some cases another faculty member) is responsible for assigning graduate students as TAs to a particular course.

If you wish to work with a particular student or require additional TAs, make your request well before the distribution of TAs in the late summer. Occasionally undergraduate students are hired as TAs well into the start of classes.

TA duties

TAs belong to the CUPE 4600 bargaining unit and their terms of employment are spelled out in the collective agreement. Their workload is typically an average of 10 hours a week, to a maximum of 130 hours per term (note: all regular TAs are eligible to attend five hours of paid training each year. For details, visit the TA support website).

Typical TA duties include office hours, preparation time, discussion groups, seminars and lecture attendance as well as lab demonstrations, supervision or clean up.

Defining the TA’s role

An important component in working with your TA is clear communication of their role. The following questions are designed to help you clarify your expectations of them [adapted from Handbook for Teaching Assistants, University of Delaware, 1989].

  • Who will supervise the TA? Whom should they contact if they are unable to attend class/lab/tutorial/office hours?
  • What is the TA’s role (e.g., lecturing, leading discussions, running tutorials, conducting labs, grading, attending lectures, reading the textbook/course materials)? How often will they perform that role? How many office hours should they hold and when? What are your expectations for online communications (e.g., email, cuLearn discussions, chat room postings)? How much time should be spent on such duties?
  • What A/V equipment should they know how to use? Are they responsible for getting/returning/booking/setting up A/V equipment? Will they have other responsibilities (e.g., placing material on reserve in the library, copying/distributing course materials, proctoring tests/exams)?
  • How much autonomy will the TA have to present new ideas, use different teaching methods, or present perspectives that differ from the instructor’s?
  • How much help is too much (e.g., what kind of assistance should they give or not give to students?)? Should they organize group review/extra help sessions?
  • If the TA will grade assignments/tests, are the criteria for assigning grades clear (e.g., is there a process/formula for assigning grades?)? Can you offer concrete guidance, such as model answers or grading rubrics? Who reviews disputed grades? How many grading tasks will there be? How much time should they spend on each? Should they make copies of graded assignments/labs?
  • If the TA will lead discussions or tutorials, how should the sessions be run? Should they be informal question and answer sessions or formally structured lessons? Should they stay close to text/lecture material? Should they encourage all students to talk or should they do most of the talking? Should they deal only with students’ problems or focus on a specific aspect of lecture material?
  • If the TA will conduct labs, what are their responsibilities? Should they have specialized health and safety training/credentials? Do they obtain and/or keep track of supplies and materials? Do they design or revise experiments? Do they give demonstrations? What should they do in case of emergency or accident? What is the procedure for reporting broken/missing equipment?

Working effectively with TAs: A checklist

Forging a strong working relationship with your TA(s) requires consideration and effort, like any other relationship. The checklists below provide suggestions as to what steps you might take to ensure that you are working toward that goal. 

The first meeting:

  • Determine your TAs’ previous teaching experience
  • Exchange information with TAs’ regarding all upcoming deadlines and schedules—yours, your course’s, and theirs
  • Table a range of possible teaching duties that factor in the TAs’ experience and your respective schedules, and which acknowledge that the TAs’ professional development has been considered
  • Consult/negotiate with TAs on duties to be assigned and time allotments for each
  • Enter the agreed upon list of duties and time allotments into the TA Management System on Carleton Central
  • Exchange contact information, e.g. email and cell number
  • Connect TAs with the information/tools they need to do their job. Do they need:

Ongoing:

  • Hold regular meetings
  • Provide clear, explicit marking guidance
    • marking meetings
    • rubrics
    • written instructions
    • feedback
    • marking sheet
  • Communicate all course policies to TAs, for everyday and exceptional situations
  • Provide TAs with consistent feedback on their work
  • Solicit TAs for their feedback on your and your students’ performance
  • Present a united front as a teaching team

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