TA Resources

TA Training Helpful Hints and Guidelines

Before classes begin

  • Complete online UM training
  • Complete RSMAS 3-day training course
  • Design class syllabus with course instructor, including your contact information and office hours
  • (Optional) Set up a course website for posting presentations, homework, sample exams, etc. OR update Blackboard or other pre-made course website
  • Visit your classroom to see seating set up and availability of computers, lab supplies, etc. (This can be completed by arriving early the first day)
  • Consider your classroom style and level of formality you want to take on with your students. Many classroom dynamics are set on the first day. Being prepared and setting the tone is key.
  • Plan ways to get mid-semester TA feedback. The course professor should collect this feedback and compile it anonymously for the TA.

First day of class

  • Go to the first day of class. Arrive early and greet students as they enter.
  • Be introduced either by professor or yourself, and describe what you are available to help with as a TA.
  • Be friendly and accessible! Stay high energy. Encourage students to participate.
  • Hand out syllabus, and go over rules for grading, including allowed absences, late work, testing styles, class participation, required reading, etc
  • If you are maintaining a course website, make sure all students know where it is (include on syllabus)
  • (Optional) Talk about your own research interests and how you have reached this point in graduate school. (Depends on your TA role and formality of the class)
  • Find out why your students are taking the class and if there is any topic in particular they want to see covered. (Better for smaller classes, not large lectures)
  • Don’t worry if you are nervous- this is meant to be a learning experience! It will get better as time goes along and easier the more you practice.
  • Let students know how you plan to stay in touch with them. If it is by email, remind them to put their name in all emails, as you will not know who rockstar27@gmail.com is.

Classroom tips

  • Be prepared for each class, and start it with an outline of the daily plan on the board (PowerPoint).
  • Start each lecture with a puzzle, questions, picture, video or paradox that ties into the day’s topic.
  • Use a variety of presentation tools in each class.
  • Use storytelling while teaching to keep attention.
  • Encourage classroom discussions and lead students to the answers without giving them away.
  • Be redundant and repetitive when discussing key material. (Especially during reviews)
  • If you use PowerPoint, have your presentations available online before the class begins. If you want to ensure your students take notes, you can leave key information blank for the students to fill in.
  • Have students summarize key points and unclear topics at the end of each lesson (bonus: use these as ungraded ways to take attendance) (Better for smaller classes than large lectures)
  • Try to learn your students’ names, and remember you were once an undergrad too.
  • Don’t grade everything! Use non-graded feedback to let students know how they are doing without adding stress (i.e. ungraded quizzes, classroom exercises, oral feedback)
  • Encourage students to work together as long as the material permits it, but enforce that graded material must be individual work.
  • Use multiple examples to illustrate key points and concepts, and try to connect them to real-world experiences the students can relate to.
  • Gather student feedback before the halfway point and use it to improve teaching and learning.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something. Don’t make up an answer! Tell the students you don’t know but you will get back to them with an answer soon.
  • When in doubt, defer to the main course professor, but try to keep an impression of class control. Avoid getting drawn into “good cop, bad cop”.
  • If you have select students that are outgoing, approach them outside of class for individual feedback.
  • Don’t let students “opt out”. Make sure to include everyone in class discussion by asking questions. You can use a student list (roll call) while learning their names.
  • Don’t play favorites!
  • Ask the students throughout the lecture if they are following along and if they have any questions. This provides students who are more timid a chance to “shake their head no” and provides you with feedback on how well students are grasping the concepts.
  • For key concepts, think in advance of at least 3 ways to explain the same concept. Remember that not all students learn in the same way.
  • With harder concepts, it helps students when you can relate to their struggles. If you found the material hard when you first learned it, acknowledge that challenge to the students and reinforce that if you understood it, they can too.
  • Keep in mind that students come from all sorts of backgrounds. Try to be as culture/gender neutral as possible with examples and exam/lab/homework questions. (For example: not all students will know where Washington, D.C. is, be prepared for this).
  • Be positive! Being more encouraging leads to more classroom participation.
  • Remember your presentation skills! (Speak to the entire room, not the board; project your voice; speak slowly and clearly; show enthusiasm)
  • Remember to start at “STEP 0” when working through a problem by answering “how do you even being to approach the problem?”
  • Allow for “wait time” when asking a student a question. If they do not answer within the allotted time, try to ask them a series of easier questions to lead them to the answer.

Testing tips

  • Give out sample test questions before the review session, and go over answers during a review session or have a class participation Q and A session.
  • Hand out study guides or upload review PowerPoint.
  • Talk about what you expect in terms of studying and homework time.
  • Make sure students know you are available for questions and tutoring. (What specific times? When will you no longer take questions?)
  • Offer to hold additional office hours before large exams.
  • Do not give students advance “hints” on exam questions.
  • Be fair in grading, design a rubric for essay questions.
  • Give students the chance to earn extra credit on exams (either extra questions, or through course quizzes).
  • Allow students options for multiple essay questions (i.e. answer 3 out of 5)

Other thoughts

What makes someone a good student does not always make them a good teacher.

“The professor who attracts a following of talented students is generally the teacher who took time to reflect upon the means to reach the students on their own terms.”

Attend “Future Faculty” workshops hosted by the graduate school (certificate if you attend 3 sessions)

Two helpful books: “Notes of a First Year Teacher” by Michael Mandelbaum and “Bike Riding and the Art of Learning” by Robert G. Kraft