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How Do I Effectively Work with TAs?
Dr. Kimberly Gaus planning to work with teaching assistants
Kimberly will teach with TAs for the first time.
Dr. Kimberly Gaus has not yet worked with teaching assistants (TAs), but she is about to teach a course with two TAs. While she prepares for the circuits class, she is faced with multiple questions about how to effectively work with TAs. She turns to her department chair for advice.
Full Story:
The next term starts in three weeks and Assistant Professor Kimberly Gaus is preparing a class that sheíll teach for the first time: a 200-level analog circuits class. The class is expected to enroll 120 engineering students, so the electrical engineering department set up six sections of recitation and six sections of circuits lab.
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The department assigned her two graduate students, Jan and YanLin, to run these sections. Recalling the departmental convention, she assumes that being a TA for this class means running the recitation section, grading homework, running the lab section, and holding office hours. One has some experience as a TA, but this is the otherís first formal teaching position.
This class is the first time Kimberly has used TAs. She's a bit worried because she has heard some faculty complain about their TAs and she recalls ineffective TAs who taught when she was a student.
When picturing the complexity of working with TAs, many questions come up for her. How do they set standards for fair and consistent grading? Should the TAs independently prepare the lab activities? Should she expect the TAs to attend every lecture?
Also, YanLin is a native Chinese speaker whose accent is often difficult to understand. Kimberly suspects some students will be frustrated with his accent. What can she do to support YanLin? What else must she consider when supervising TAs?
She talked to her department chair about this. He offered a few suggestions to help her in this role of manager:
Ask the TAs to attend your lectures. They will see how material has been covered and should be better prepared to correct studentsí misunderstandings during the sections.
  1. Meet with your TAs early and regularly. Set up a schedule to meet with your TAs once a week throughout the term. Each week you should discuss the topics to be covered in lecture, studentsí questions that arise in the sections, and future lab exercises. Consider delegating lab preparations to the TAs, reserving your role as reviewer of their plans. If possible, kick off your collaborative efforts by first all meeting with an instructional consultant, whose guidance might make everything go smoother.
  2. To ensure TAs grade consistently, develop a grading rubric for TAs to use and then check their grading for fairness and consistency. Give them feedback so they can improve their grading skills.
  3. Help your TAs find support for their teaching. Suggest that they sign up for teaching workshops. Since some TAs go onto faculty positions, introducing them to an instructional consultant could provide them a beneficial professional relationship.
  4. Suggest to the international TA ways he can help his students who might not understand his accent, such as bringing up language differences at the beginning of the term, writing instructions out, and encouraging clarifying questions. Also remember that international TAs may have difficulty understanding students.
Inspired by the recommendations from her department chair, Kimberly immediately set up a meeting with Jan and YanLin and began working as a team to teach the electrical circuits students.
Coordinating and collaborating with TAs
Effectively working with TAs requires involving them early and regularly in class preparation. These links bring up many issues that should be discussed with your TAs.

Teaching Engineering: Efficiency (PDF)
A subsection on working with teaching assistants in engineering classes is offered on pages 6 and 7.

Planning Guide for Faculty and TAs
Offers specific questions to discuss with TAs when preparing a course.

Guide, train and supervise Teaching Assistants
Several suggestions for faculty who want to make effective use of TAs while improving the quality of an undergraduate course.
Grading consistently
When multiple people will be grading the efforts of your students, you need to work together to ensure consistency and fairness.

Rubrics, Scoring & Grading
Grading rubrics are helpful in making grading objective and efficient while communicating to students how they will be evaluated. This site explains rubrics used in engineering education.

Resources for Effective Grading
Suggestions for making grading more efficient, consistent, and fair. Spurred by grading concerns expressed by engineering faculty.

How do I grade fairly and accurately?
Simple suggestions to help you fairly assess student learning and performance.

Improving TAsí teaching
Since TAs vary in their levels of teaching experience, faculty can help them become effective teachers. These links may help you and your TAs to provide your students a positive learning experience.

Laboratory Teaching
Suggestions for preparing lab activities and managing students in lab sections.

Designing and Teaching a Course: Planning in Teams and with Teaching Assistants (PDF)
See page 5 for specific suggestions for effectively sharing the teaching of a course with TAs.

Teaching and Learning in Sections and Labs
Offers guidance to faculty and TAs to increase student learning in courses that have lab and recitation sections.

Faculty/TA Teaching Partnerships (PDF)
Explains three stages of development that a TA may be in (Senior Learners, Colleague-in-Training, and Junior Colleagues) and the corresponding roles the faculty member takes (Manager, Model, and Mentor). Includes tips for TAs and tips for faculty working with TAs.

TA Preparation Reconsidered
Suggests how teaching assistants interested in careers in academia could gain experience in three types of scholarly activity: research, teaching, and service.

TA Talk
An online newsletter for TAs that may be of interest to your TAs.
Supporting non-native speakers
Many international students obtain teaching assistantships and must also work around language difficulties. The following link may help non-native speakers who are concerned their accent will confuse American students.

How Can You Improve Your Communication Skills?
In advice for international teaching assistants and faculty members, this section of a teaching handbook suggests ways you can improve the communication between you and students.
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