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FAQs for Teaching Assistants (TAs)

Q: How do you manage your time between grading papers and your own homework?

A: Be prepared for what you teach – the students are paying for their education. For many TAs, this becomes the first priority. On the other hand, you can’t get behind in your own education. That means planning ahead. When you know you have a paper due in 2 weeks, start it as soon as it is assigned – don’t wait until the last minute because you never know what is going to require your time just before your assignment is due. Also, consult one of the several books on time management. A couple of TA favorites are The Now Habit and Never Check Email in the Morning. You can check Albertsons Library for these and other books on this topic. The Center for Teaching and Learning also has several books with sections on time management. Go to the CTL resources page and follow directions to get onto LibraryThing – the online database for the CTL Library.

Q: How much personal information should you share with your students?

A: The students don’t need to know what you’re doing on your personal time and how hard it is for you to manage everything. Some TAs prefer to share a little more about what is going on in their life to help the students better understand that they, too, are students and understand the life of a student, but we encourage you to land on the side of less information is better.

Q: What do you like best about being a TA?

A: This varies between departments and for each individual; however, one of the things often reported is that you get to use your background as a student to be a teacher. You get to share an area that you are passionate about and inspire them to perhaps enjoy your subject more at the end of the class than they did at the beginning.

Q: How long does it take to prepare to teach a class?

A: The general rule of thumb is that you’ll spend 2 hours outside of class for each hour you teach. This time will be in preparation, grading, sharing, etc. Be prepared, but not over-prepared – moreover, be flexible. As you prepare, make sure that you remain open to questions that the students have and when the teachable moment occurs, seize the opportunity to help students lurch forward in understanding. However, don’t think you have all the answers. When you don’t know – be honest.

Be honest with your expectations and what you can do and will do. Be truthful – when a student isn’t cutting the mustard, let them know. This aspect of being a TA is a balancing act. Take free time for yourself and enjoy it, but fulfill all responsibilities as a student and a teacher.

Q: What if I don’t know what I’m supposed to do as a TA?

A: Your department coordinator will help you with your specific assignment. If you’re unsure who that is, contact the departmental Administrative Assistant.