OIA Mini-Primer: Tips & Resources for Incoming Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs)

Working as a graduate teaching assistant (GTA) is a rewarding, yet challenging learning experience. This list of tips introduces a number of resources and units here on campus who provide support for GTAs. Moreover, you can find a few practical tips and strategies to prepare for the first week of classes.

Tip #1: Use Available Resources

Actively ask for help and advice; it is perceived as positive behavior, a sign of initiative and care. Have frequent conversations about your role, your teaching, and your time management with your supervisor and peers. Your core resources at the UA are:

Tip #2: Demonstrate Knowledge of UA Policies (TATO)

The first step for developing a professional relationship to supervisors, peers, and students is to become familiar with the academic policies regarding the student code of conduct, the code of academic integrity, privacy protection (FERPA), disability, and sexual harassment.  The Teaching Assistant Training Online (TATO) is a required online module that will teach you about UA policies.

Tip #3: Use Academic Support Services

Never forget that you first priority is your own studies. With part of your tuition and fees, you pay for a variety of support services - don’t be shy to use them! Here are a few to get you started:

Sources that serve you and your students:

Tip #4: Write Your Syllabus

If you write a syllabus, please be aware of plagiarism and intellectual property rights, but also the practices of sharing that may exist in your department. Also, review the UA policies for syllabi below. Your supervisor and people in the OIA can help you write a good syllabus.

Tip #5: Learn to Use the Needed Technology

You may be expected to use Desire2Learn (D2L) and different media. Ask your supervisor about any technology you might need to use. Here are some places that can help you:

Tip #6: Improve Teacher-Student Communication

Practice professional online communication by adhering to the Official Student Email Policy. In addition, here are three ways to enhance in-person communication:

  • Orientation: Your students may be new to a college campus, and even this country; welcome them with a brief orientation to your classroom, its rules and expectations, its tools and materials. Give them a tour through your D2L course site.

  • Presentation: Remind yourself to speak slowly, loudly, and as articulately as possible. Use more than one mode to convey information, e.g. writing down key words, giving instructions orally and on a slide or handout, or showing a video that explains what you just presented. Online environments, like D2L, provide many tools to create multimodal materials, including quick options for video and audio. Ask your students questions to see if they understood you or give them options for self-assessment. If you teach in physical classrooms, wait 5-10 seconds after you ask a question to give them enough time to think about an answer.

  • Strong accents: The section "English Speaking Proficiency Evaluation" of the Graduate Assistant/Associate Manual offers a suggestion for a syllabus statement for courses with international GTAs. Alternatively, you may use it as a template for a presentation or handout in your specific sections or labs. Tell your students that all of you need to adjust to each other and that it is always okay to ask for repetition or clarification.

Tip #7: Build a Community and Engage Your Students

Here are a few ways to establish a good community:

  • Names: Learn to know your students by name and keep track of their progress in your class. Also, share a little about yourself so that the students can learn to know you as well.

  • Behavior: UA classrooms allow for a certain degree of informal behavior, e.g. using first names, wearing informal clothes, or drinking/eating in the classroom. Talk with your students during the first class and decide together what will be acceptable and unacceptable as a community.

  • Engagement: Students here are used to actively engaging in class both individually and collaboratively in groups. Give them lots of opportunities to participate by analyzing, interpreting, experimenting, and similar activities that stimulate higher thinking levels

  • Office hours: Students may visit your office hours to talk about their assignments and sometimes try to negotiate their grades. Ask your supervisor and peers about best practices. You do not have to accept impolite behavior (see UA policies) and can always ask your supervisor for assistance.

Tip #8: Write Lesson Plans

When you prepare to teach a lesson, first answer these questions:

  1. Why is this lesson relevant to my students?

  2. What do I want my students to be able to do at the end of the session?

  3. How will I measure whether the students are able to do so?

  4. What materials, presentations, and activities will I use to teach the students?

  5. How do I give my students opportunities to actively work with the content by thinking critically, discussing, analyzing, applying, etc?

When you have answered these questions, write yourself a lesson plan to make sure that your lesson is well structured and within the time limit. Tell your students about your objectives for the lesson so that all of you know what your goals are. The students also expect you to very clearly explain what they are supposed to do outside of the class time (homework) and how their work is evaluated.

Tip #9: Give Feedback and Grade Effectively

Your students deserve prompt, development-focused, and actionable feedback on their work. Ask your supervisor about your specific responsibilities in regard to grading and expectations about your grading practices. Be very clear about the grading criteria with your supervisor and your students. You may increase consistency in your grading by using a rubric and giving more timely feedback by using the Grade Mark feature via TurnItIn in the D2L Assignments Submission folders.

Tip #10: Gather Feedback

Use a brief, anonymous survey to get your students’ feedback two or three times during the semester. Discuss the results of the survey with your students and decide what changes you can make in your teaching. Also, ask your supervisor or peers to observe your teaching once or twice to give you feedback. The OIA Peer Review of Teaching Protocol can help with that.

Tip #11: Stay Cool

It can be very overwhelming to teach for the first time, and maybe even in a foreign language and culture, and many things may go wrong. That’s normal! Keep learning, talking with others, and asking for assistance and advice. Most of all take care of yourself: Sleep enough, keep hydrated in the dry Arizona heat, take a break sometimes, be happy, make friends. And if teaching still seems too much to deal with, come talk to us at the OIA. We always have some more tips to share.

UCATT offers free individual consultation, webinars and workshops, and online mini-courses. You can also take credit-bearing courses and complete an official graduate certificate, the Certificate in College Teaching. Please direct any questions to this guide's current curator, Mascha Gemein.