Indicators of TA development

"Don't new and experienced TAs differ, and require different types of support?"

New TAs may be a novice or have years of TA experience. In order to provide the support most appropriate for the TA’s skill level, you may want to familiarize yourself with the progression of TA development from new to well-practiced. On this page, you'll find summarized research on the characteristics of new and experienced TAs. You'll also find a framework that will allow you to help your TA find success regardless of his or her teaching proficiency.

The following chart was developed by Jody D. Nyquist and Donald H. Wulff (1996, 19) in their book, “Working effectively with graduate assistants.“ It demonstrates the progression of TAs from new (senior learners) to more experienced (colleague in training or junior colleague) in the teacher role.

Indicators of TA Development

Senior learner (new TA) Colleague in training Junior colleague (senior PhD student)


"How will students like me?"


"How do I lecture, discuss?"


"Are students getting it?"

Discourse level


Give simplistic explanations


Talk like insiders, use technical language


make complex ideas clear without the use of jargon

Approach to authority


Rely on supervisor; supervisory committee

Independent or counterdependent

Stand on own ideas - defiant at times

Independent /collegial

Relate to faculty as junior colleagues

Approach to students

Engaged /vulnerable, student as friend, victim, or enemy

"Love" students; want to be friends; expect admiration or are hurt/angry in response; personalize interactions

Detached /student as experimental subject

Disengage or distance themselves from students - becoming analytical about learning relationships

Engaged /professional student as client

Understands student/instructor relationships and the collaborative effort required for student learning to occur

As a complement to the previous table, Nyquist & Wulff (1996, 26-28) created the table below to help a supervisor with the stage at which a TA is at in his or her development. Identify whether your TA is a first-time teaching assistant (Senior Learner); a TA with some experience (Colleague in Training); or a senior PhD student who has a lot of teaching expertise (Junior Colleague).

By understanding what stage a TA is at in his or her confidence with teaching, you will be better able to help guide him or her through his or her work as a TA. The framework below provides some guidelines and suggestions as to how to approach working with TAs in your courses.

Senior learner Colleague in training Junior colleague
Relative emphasis on supervisor's role


"Do the task my way and check back with me."

Educational Model

"Think about the problem, generate options, and let's discuss potential outcomes."


"You make the decision. Let me know if I can be of help to you. I'm interested in the outcome."

Teaching assignments for TAs

Assist professor

Grade papers, hold office hours, conduct carefully planned quiz sections, collect feedback on course

Assume larger role in course

Develop writing assignments, generate test questions, do some lecturing

Design and teach a basic course

Assist with an advanced course

Teacher training activity for TAs

TA Conferences, TAC-run seminars, and TA workshops.

Schedule meetings, observation by supervisor, frequent feedback

Pro-seminar designed to build repertoire of teaching skills

Observation and feedback from supervisor

Reflective practicum over curricular and pedagogical development and potential approaches to students
Function of evaluation Frequently assess performance in teaching assignments Provide systemic feedback on the development of individual instructional skills Provide feedback as a colleague on developing a personal teaching style and approach