Being a Teaching Assistant (TA) means that you are both an expert on the topic and an important first point of contact for students in the course. If a student makes a request for help, or if you see that a student is struggling in the course, then address the issue by making yourself available to ask and answer questions; however, TAs are not intended to be an instructor, a tutor, or a counselor. If any issues encountered require more than the normal clarification or explanation then recommend that the student meet with the instructor. Also trust your instincts if you think the instructor should be informed about a given situation.
Role of a Teaching Assistant
Basic Responsibilities of a TA
- Understand course expectations before the start of the semester by:
- Asking the instructor for his or her specific expectations
- Talking to students who have been a TA for the course before
- Talking to students who have been a TA for the instructor before
- Perform and complete all labs BEFORE each lab section
- Complete all duties in a timely and professional manner
- Know the lecture material in the course
- Know safety and emergency procedures
- Acquire appropriate safety training or training for specific skills
- Interact with students in an appropriate and respectful manner
- Attend all preparatory sessions
- Be accessible in a reliable manner by:
- Keeping regular office hours
- Being approachable in class or in lab
- Uphold the Duke Community Standard
Typical activities of a TA
- Holding office hours and/or being available to students by appointment
- Running lab or recitation sessions (including brief introductory lectures)
- Attending preparatory sessions for labs
- Attending course lectures
- Grading (pre-lab quizzes, lab reports, exams, etc.)
- Posting course material to Blackboard or other course website
- Maintaining clear records of students’ grades
- Designing homework problems, lab report questions, exam questions, etc.
- Tracking student attendance
- Attending regular meetings with instructor
- Presenting review sessions before exams
- Presenting a guest lecture
- Collecting data for ABET review
How TAs Are Assigned to Courses
The Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) for the department and his or her assistant (DGSA) make the assignment of TAs to specific courses. Whenever possible, the DGS/DGSA will try to assign students to courses taught by their adviser. Students with a particular interest in a specific course should talk to their DGSA.
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- Assess student preparedness and basic knowledge levels by asking questions about:
- Their understanding of steps involved in the lab exercise
- The general concepts behind the lab exercise.
- Involve students in discussion.
- Be prepared to explain concepts in more than one way - use analogies.
- If one students asks a question, it is likely that several students have the same concern
- Ask volunteers to show how to solve a problem on the whiteboard.
- After a TA or student provides an answer, ask other students to rephrase the answer in their own words.
- Present a question and start the answer, then call on a student by name to finish the answer.
- When students give a partially correct answer, encourage them by saying that they are on the right track and paraphrase the correct aspects of their answer. Then ask if they can answer the rest of the question.
- Do not let a single student dominate the discussion--try to keep as many students engaged as possible.
Engaging the Undergraduate Academic Deans
A teaching assistant will often be the first person to notice when a student is getting overwhelmed by personal life, grade pressures, or such. Don't hesitate to reach out to the student and encourage them to talk to their academic dean. There are a range of support avenues for these students from simple supportive counseling and advice to peer advising and tutoring to guidance on how to manage time and study effectively. You may wish to contact a Pratt Academic Dean. You should also inform your course instructor/faculty member.