Teaching Assistantships

Our department normally appoints graduate students in years two through five to serve as teaching assistants (TA). These are important opportunities for you to gain teaching experience.  As a TA, you may be responsible for labs in theory courses and perform additional duties as assigned by the instructor. The work takes about 10-15 hours a week and is supervised by the instructor. You are expected to attend all the lecture hours and final examination of the course and to be available to consult with students.  Ordinarily, you will also assist in grading of papers and examinations. Your instructor will meet regularly with you.

Best Practices: Topics to discuss with the instructor you are assisting

  1. Learning Objectives: What should students in the class should learn through the semester? This conversation is especially useful for a TA who is responsible for a lab section that might have an independent syllabus from the main class.
  2. Grading: What are the instructor's expectations concerning grading?  Which assignments will the TA be responsible for grading?  Will you be fully responsible, or what role does the instructor expect to play in relation to the grading process and the assigning of grades?  Are there guidelines for what the instructor expects to see included in an assignment/test answer for a student to get an A/B+/B/etc?  Does the instructor want to see a particular grade distribution? Is there a grading curve? Does the instructor want to look over the assignments and approve the grades?  How much time will you have to complete the grading? Make sure it clear to the class who has responsibility for the grading.
  3. Test setting: What are the instructor's expectations regarding the setting of homework assignments, quizzes, tests, and exams clear at the start of the semester.  Will the instructor set them all?  Will you be asked to play a role?  What role?
  4. Review sessions: How can you help the students study productively? How/if could you conduct pre-test review sessions? Ensure that you have a clear vision of the test expectations or of what materials are to be covered so you don't end up coaching/helping students in the wrong way.
  5. Paper writing: What are the instructor's expectations regarding your assistance with term paper preparation? In what ways are you responsible for guiding the students' writing of their final papers?  Should you read paper drafts?  Should you be responsible for teaching students the correct use of citations and bibliographic formats?
  6. Teaching: Ask at the start of the semester if and how you may participate in class teaching.  Will you lead discussion sections?  Will you prepare a class lecture?   Are there times you will be responsible for the class when the instructor is out of town?
  7. Lab sections: If your class has a lab section for which you are wholly responsible, does the instructor have advice on materials?
  8. Class materials: What is considered sufficient lead time to prepare or copy any teaching materials? Is it possible to get books ordered for the class (eg free desk copies)?
  9. Teaching preparation: If you are to lead a class session, find out if you are also responsible for assigning reading and listening materials.
  10. Blackboard: If your instructor is using Sakai, be sure you have Sakai posting access.  If your instructor doesn't use Sakai, you may want to set up a Sakai site for the class and activate it.  (Theory TAs, for example, may use it to give students access to music by means of streaming or mp3s.)
  11. Library reserves: Ask your instructor to let the music librarian know if you will be placing materials on/off reserve.
  12. Class management and communication: Understand your instructor's expectations about who is expected to respond to emails that are cc'ed to both the instructor and TA. 
  13. Feedback: Ask the instructor for feedback and critique on your teaching. You are learning--make the most of the experience. You can also ask for student feedback from the course assessment. This helps build your teaching portfolio and assists the graduate program in ensuring our students are getting the training they need and doing their jobs well. The Departmental Secretary has these forms upstairs in the main office.
  14. Office hours and class attendance: You are expected to attend the classes and to be prepared by doing the reading and listening and having a handle on the assignments. Ask if you are expected to hold weekly office hours and for how long.