Advice to New TAs

Courtesy of Fall 2008 EE301 Class

`The top five things I know now about teaching that I wish I had known at the beginning of the semester.''

Overall List of #1's from class:

  • 1.Prepare
    a.Foresee how lecture will go
    b.Think about important steps
    c.How long will each part take?
    d.Think about questions from the class
    e.Make it interesting
  • 2.Bound TA time
    a.Keep your workload realistic
    b.Talk to the professor if responsibilities take too much time
  • 3.The first lab/lecture of the week is always the most difficult.
    Be prepared to have more bugs and issues to work through early on
    Do it yourself.
    Sybchronize with lecture.
    Archive and use past history as guide to teaching particular labs.
  • 4.If possible, prepare early in the semester rather than week by week. This is not always possible, but will payoff later on when the semester gets busier.
  • 5.You don't need to earn respect. As an instructor you begin with the students respect, but it can easily be lost.
  • a.Don't be unprepared
  • 6.Try to avoid teacher's ego. Be more like a friend. Be approachable. a.(there seemed to be some mild disagreement in the class about this one)

    Group #1

    1.Prepare! (Plan your discussion, time it etc.)
    2.Attitude / enthusiasm while lecturing (be confident etc.)
    3.Plan for emergencies (esp. in lab)
    4.Have a grading rubric
    5.Coming up with good discussion problems

    Group #2

    1.How to manage/balance the difficulty of the first of several labs or lessons in a week.
    2.Students will behave unexpectedly
    3.You are never prepared enough.
    4.Six ways to discourage learning.
    5.How to write tests labs, assignments etc.

    Group #3

    1.Avoid the teacher's Ego
    2.Avoid non-specific feedback
    3.Fixation on low level questions
    4.How to organize the class, plan the class
    5.How to direct the students to finish the final project

    Group #4

    1.Students come into class respecting you. You do not need to earn it and it is hard to lose it
    2.Students do not know what is best for them
    3.Accept the fact that you are not going to be perfect
    4.Grading can be arbitrary. Do not let It slide
    5.Set up a mailing list

    Group #5

    1.Evaluate the time required for GSI responsibilities, and if it is too much, confront the professor to ease the burden. Teaching will be time consuming, but it should not take all of your time.
    2.For lab sections, run through the lab before the students. It is usually informative, and will go a long way to having smoother lab sections.
    3.Preparing lectures for discussion sections takes longer than you think. Allow enough time and try to anticipate difficult topics and time constraints. If possible, plan early in the semester to ease the load when your workload increases throughout the semester.
    4.Know how to find the lab tech in case you run into equipment issues during lab. A bad connection or scope could cost an entire lab section. Some problems are unavoidable, but some can be easily fixed. This is more important early on when learning where things are and how labs run.
    5.Along the lines of #1, try to have a grader for the course. Even having 20 homeworks to grade each week can turn into a significant time commitment. If there is too much grading to do, a grader is a nice way to split tasks.

    Group #6

    1.Define a well defined grading policy specially for the lab
    2.Avoid using phrases that make the students feel disappointed or lost.
    3.If you have extra time earlier in the semester, it's helpful to prepare some discussion materials in advance
    4.Get access to the course project before the students
    5.Learn the software for the course before the students
    6.Make sure each lab is doable within the dedicated time for the lab. Give appropriate feedback to the instructor

    From Vinay Raj Hampapur:
    Being a Teaching Assistant (TA) is an art; an art form that has scope and opportunity for plenty of refinement. As such, when you first become a TA, it is quite natural to feel awkward; youll be required to fulfill dual roles as students as well as teachers. But this is nothing to be intimidated of; in fact, with the right access to resources on your part, you can smoothen and even enjoy being a TA. First and foremost, know your colleagues and the professor for whom you will be TAing. Having an open channel of communication with those you work with will serve you well in times of need including requests for someone to cover for you during illness, an academic problem you are unsure how to resolve and so on. Secondly, never lose composure even when youre faced with a problem you are unsure how to solve. This intimidation particularly tends to happen when you are facing a large body of students. Take a deep breath and promise your students to provide the solution and make sure you follow through. Lastly, do not over stretch yourself to your students. Make sure that you attain a balance where neither your own education nor your efficiency as a TA is compromised. Be absolutely sure to clear the central concepts for your students; but, do not bring it upon yourself to show your students how every problem or variant of it is solved. Furthermore, be absolutely certain to motivate and inspire your students; it is your job to show them the beauty of the subject you teach and make sure that they can fully appreciate that beauty. And, on a final note, always let your demeanor show that you are there for them; students appreciate having a TA who knows what they are going through.
    Good Luck and all the best!!

    From another EE301 student, Fall 08:
    Stay organized
    triple check grade entry, and keep prior versions from each edit
    learn your students names (the sooner the better)