Preparing for your course

As a TA, you're part of a team that includes a course supervisor (usually a faculty or staff member) and often several other teaching assistants. Before your first class, meet with the course supervisor to discuss the following.

  • What duties will you perform?
  • Must you attend the lectures?
  • Who generates the marking guides?
  • What deadlines exist and which ones are fixed or idealized?
  • Do you have access to photocopiers, audio-visual material or computer facilities?
  • Get a copy of the course outline and the assigned reading material.
  • Get a list of students’ names of your class (you can get them with email addresses included) and arrange for updates at appropriate times.
  • Will you have an office, a desk, a phone or a mailbox?
  • When do you teach? When are the office hours? Who sets them?
  • Where is the classroom? Does it have a clock? Do you need chalk or white board pens and erasers? What classroom technology is in the room? Should you set up a tutorial with AV to learn how to use it?
  • How/where do you get keys for the room, building or other required facilities?
  • Who should you contact if you have any questions (e.g., department secretaries and administrative assistants)?

First impressions

The first meeting of a class is an important time to establish your role as a TA beyond merely transmitting information. It is also critical for calling attention to the structure and content of the course.

Pre-class jitters

Remember that you know more about your subject than your students do, so don't doubt your abilities!

Nervousness can make you talk fast and be disorganized, so make a conscious effort to speak at a moderate pace and maintain your focus.

Your grand entrance!

Introduce yourself and the course you're teaching. You may want to mention that your job is to help the students and that you're available if they're having problems.

Your students may not have met a TA before, so you may want to explain your role and what parts of the course and for which grades you are responsible. You could mention why you're teaching the course and/or why you're interested in that particular field of study to break the ice and convey your enthusiasm for the subject.

Confirming the register

Check the names on your class list at the start of your first class. Add new names and delete those who are transferring out of your section and make sure that new students have registered properly.

Creating a learning atmosphere

There is a strong correlation between positive evaluation of the TA and student perceptions that the TA cares about them as individuals. Show students from the very beginning that you view them as individuals and care about them as people.

The first and one of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to learn their names as quickly as possible. Include an icebreaker so that everyone can get to know each other better.

Other (first) class activities

Pass out the syllabus and go over the highlights with the students. Have more copies of the syllabus than you have students, as you may get transfers or have students who forget their syllabus the following class.

Explain what your goals and expectations are and what you expect from your students. Detail the course requirements and how the grades will be calculated.

This may be an appropriate time to state any guidelines you have regarding racist and sexist language, latecomers, late assignments, etc.

Use this class to state the department policy towards cheating and plagiarism. This is required to be discussed as well as be clearly written on the syllabus and/or course website. Ensure that all students fully understand what constitutes cheating and plagiarism.

Emphasize that your job is to help the students and that you are available for consultation if they're having problems.

Give them a taste of the course

Provide an overview of the course. It can help students decide quickly if they are in the right place for their interests. Plus, it lets students know that you take the course seriously and that your lab/tutorial will be about learning the course material.

After class

Finish on time so students won't be late for their next class. Be available for questions but don't linger in the classroom as another class may be waiting.

Re-evaluate today’s class

Did you get your points across? Do you need to find out anything before next class?

It would be helpful to consult your fellow TAs or your TAC (Teaching Assistant Consultant) to discuss your first class and observations. What can you do to improve this presentation the next time you give it?