As the supervising faculty member, you have the opportunity to shape your graduate teaching assistants’ development as educators, as well as how they support your role as the professor. We asked several faculty members how they guide GTAs in managing the classroom, interacting with students, and otherwise balancing the pressures of teaching. Here’s what they had to say.
Holly Grout: My GTAs attend every lecture, and we meet as a group once a week to discuss course issues, assignments, and to problem-solve issues as they arise. I encourage my GTAs to consult with one another as they encounter issues in section (as well as with me) and to exchange ideas about grading.
To ensure consistency in sections, I read samples of graded work and discuss the samples with the GTAs collectively. I also observe each GTA in section once during the semester and provide written and verbal feedback to them.
Albert Pionke: I meet with my GTAs the month before they are going to start teaching for me, and we go over some of the materials for the class, and then we meet every week and talk about how the past week went and how the next week is going to go and what they want to know from me about how to do things in their classrooms.
We work together on making up assignment sheets for use in the discussion sessions. We hold normalizing sessions for grading the papers and the exams. That’s all geared toward helping them develop as effective teachers. I also give my GTAs copies of my lectures and PowerPoints and a bank of quiz questions keyed to individual lectures on individual days.
Whenever there is a policy document that governs student behavior, like how to handle absences in the discussion sections specifically, we talk about it all together. I assign one of the GTAs to write a first draft and circulate it amongst ourselves, and we collectively edit it into a shape we all agree upon. Then they can all use and distribute it. Since everybody gets a different policy document like that over the course of the semester, nobody has too much to do, but everybody gets some practice in making those statements.
Brendan Ames: I try to strike a balance between giving my TAs structure and the freedom to manage their part of our course as they fit. For example, I might make a suggestion regarding content for a recitation session, or provide rough solutions for a problem set to be graded, but I would leave how the content is presented or how a grading rubric is applied up to my TA.
My role in the TA-professor relationship, which is to help them mature as educators, is at least as important as their role as teaching support, and this freedom gives them valuable experience in designing and administering a course.
Holly Grout: We are a team, and we discuss assignments, grading, and in class activities as a team. I ask them to develop their own pop quizzes to gain experience writing assignments and provide feedback to them before they administer them. We also look at the exam together before I administer it to make sure that it reflects where they think the students are.
Check In Often
Brendan Ames: I typically meet with my TAs at least once or twice a week to discuss the course, exchange papers for grading, etc. If my TAs are conducting recitations, I would also check in regularly via email to let them know what was covered in lecture so that they can design their recitations to address the same material.
Matthew Dolliver: Following their interaction with the students (e.g., teaching material for a day or running a review session), I will make a point to “debrief” with both the TA and students (separately) to help them figure out what worked and what could work better in the future.