Teaching Assistant (TA) Info
Teaching Assistants (TAs), are valuable members of the university teaching team. Whether you are a marking TA, holding office hours, running a lab or tutorial or are in charge of facilitating discussions or giving lectures, you hold an important and unique position as both a student and teacher. This page is designed to provide resources at every step of the TA process – before starting a TAship, during the semester and at the close of the semester.
How to become a Teaching Assistant:
- The Graduate Coordinator for your home department will distribute the TA Preference Document link (Kuali) to all graduate research students in their department, approximately 2.5 months before the beginning of next term.
- Your preferences will be emailed to the Research and Graduate Office where it will be reviewed by the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies and Graduate Chairs.
- Hiring units will make offerings using the GTA Offer Generator provided by SGPS by December 1, 2020. TAs must accept or decline thir offer of TA no later than December 15, 2020.
To be eligible for a TA role:
Roles of a Teaching Assistant:
A survey of Western University TAs revealed that 100% of TAs will mark at some point in their university careers. Marking can be daunting but preparation and endurance can get you through.
TAing a laboratory course, whether in the sciences, engineering, mathematics, computer sciences or even social sciences, can be a challenging and rewarding teaching experience. Lab TAs primary responsibilities are in laboratories, providing pre-lab talks and assisting students in-lab with experiments or assignments.
As a TA in any number of faculties you may find yourself in the role of a tutorial or discussion facilitator. Tutorials are often assignment driven and are an opportunity for students to ask questions and attempt problems they were not able to in larger lecture sections. Discussion classes are usually associated with arts and humanities, social sciences and education lecture courses with heavy reading. Discussion classes are also an opportunity for students to ask questions and discuss both about lecture topics and course readings.
Preparing for your TAship:
The following resources will help you prepare for your TA role, plan out your semester, and make the most of your first class.
- Register and participate in introductory training programs for TAs like TA Day and TATP.
- Visit the program directory for a complete list of TA programming available to you.
- Review the 5 Conversations to Have with Your Course Instructor Before the Beginning of the Semester (pdf)
- Work with your course supervisor to complete a Duties Specification Letter.
- Check out the resources on the Teaching Assistant Union (PSAC Local 610) website.
Make sure you have all necessary certification. For example, all employees (including graduate Teaching Assistants) must have at the least:
Your specific role in labs may require additional certificates. Please visit Human Resources to learn more.
- Have a cell phone (set to silent) with you at all times
- Have a list of relevant emergency contacts (Classroom Technology Group, your departments Undergraduate Assistant info, and Campus Police)
- Western non-emergency contact list to help you direct students (i.e. Learning Skills, the Writing Support Centre)
Build a community with other TAs
- Speak with the course instructor or your supervisor if you have any questions
- By participating in Centre for Teaching and Learning programming, you will meet Western TAs from departments across the university
Your first class is your opportunity to introduce yourself to your students, build community among your students and introduce the course and classroom guidelines. Explore the resources listed below for planning out a great first day.
- 8 steps for maximizing Day 1 as a TA
- Stanford's Strategies for Teaching Online
- Day 1 icebreakers
- Develop Classroom/Tutorial/Lab "Rules of Conduct (pdf) with your students using this step-by-step guide to developing classroom rules/expectations with your students from the University of Minnesota
In the Classroom:
TAing a diverse classroom/intercultural communication:
- Take a course that addresses intercultural communication such as: TATP, CCC
- Communication Strategies for International Graduate Students (e-manual)
Post-Course Reflection and Portfolio Building
Official or unofficial student evaluations can provide constructive feedback to help you grow as a teacher. It is within your Union contract to receive feedback on your TAing. You can check whether your department will ask students for feedback with the official professor/course evaluation. If not administered by the department, ask your course instruct if you can give out TA evaluations. Make sure to give your course instructor notice and consider the best date to handout the evaluations (i.e., not on a test day).
Dealing with "negative" emotions
- How to Deal with Negative Teaching Comments
- Academic Integrity
- Cruel Student Comments: 7 Ways to Soothe the Sting
- Ask for course instructor if they would write you a letter for your teaching dossier.
- If your course instructor is willing to write you a letter, compile student feedback and provide a list of specific duties you performed in the class. Your instructor can use this information to write a personalized letter of reference for your teaching dossier.
- A teaching journal allows you to reflect on the course and your role and is an excellent resource to return to year after year. Think about: what worked in a course? What were great teaching examples? What would you do differently? Also keep note of your specific contribution to the course
- Create a Smile File: a physical or digital folder where you keep outstanding feedback, thank you notes from students and other evidence of your excellence as a teacher!
- Submit successful teaching strategy to Great Ideas in Teaching, our annual teaching assistant award competition
- Register for advanced program such as ATP or SGPS 9500
- Register for the Teaching Mentor Program
- Remind course instructor to tell students about TA Awards
You can begin building your Teaching Philosophy Statement by reflecting on your teaching pedagogy and using concrete examples from your TA teaching experience.
- Guidelines for Preparing a Teaching Dossier
- Tips on writing Teaching Philosophy Statements
- Watch for our annual workshops on Writing a Teaching Philosophy Statement and Building a Teaching Dossier through our Future Prof Series
- Think about all the activities and roles you completed as a TA (e.g. were you on time for office hours? Did you give written feedback on assignments? Did you ask questions of students to help guide them in labs?) and relate these to your teaching philosophy.This will give you some concrete teaching strategies you can draw on for your teaching philosophy even if you haven’t taught a class.
Keep a folder of syllabi for courses in which you have been a Teaching Assistant. You can include these in the appendix of your Teaching Dossier. These documents are also a great resource to reference when you start to design your own course outlines. Consider annotating your copies of the syllabi by taking notes on your classroom activities, taking photos of classroom activities, and keeping copies of great student work (with persmissison, of course).
- Give a guest lecture: Ask the course instructor if you can give a guest lecture for the course. This experience is valuable for professional development as an educator and can be documented in your Teaching Dossier.
- Assist in Assessment Design: Ask the course instructor if you can contribute test questions or assignment ideas. This is a great teaching experience and can also be documented in your Teaching Dossier.
- Request Feedback: Ask the course instructor or a colleague to sit in on your tutorial/lab/guest lecture and provide you with written and verbal feedback. If you are interested in additional colleague feedback, sign-up for the Teaching Mentor Program to receive further verbal and written feedback on your teaching.
Useful Online Resources
GradPath is the result of a campus wide collaboration including the TSC, SGPS, the GradWrite program, Learning Skills Services, the Student Success Centre, Psychological Services, the International Exchange and Student Centre, Western Libraries and SOGS.
For more information, please visit the Grad Path Website.
MyGradSkills is a resource available to Western graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to enhance their professional skills so that they can succeed during their studies and research. It includes over 18 free self-paced, online modules on a range of topics including: teaching & learning, career development, community engagement, entrepreneurship and more! To access modules, you must register with your western e-mail.
For more information, please visit the MyGradSkills Website.