Teaching Tips for Teaching Assistants

Teaching Tips for Teaching Assistants


Being a TA at university can be a tough job, particularly if you’re just starting out. For those of you seeking a little guidance, we’ve compiled a few tips for TAs who are assisting a professor or course instructor. Particularly if you’re an international TA, or if you’re likely to be interacting with international students – highly likely in most universities in this day and age – it’s important to keep cultural differences in mind, to be open and engaging, and available for students who need help.

  • Be prepared

The need to be prepared is something that applies in every area of life, but as a TA it can be especially important to be prepared for class, in order to teach more effectively, and to be taken seriously by students. Tech issues can be one of the biggest threats, and so it’s important to be able to think on your feet if you have any problems with presentations or related technology. If you have the opportunity, visit the classroom before your first class to familiarise yourself with the multimedia and tech options available. It is often also a good idea to decide beforehand what you want to do when students are not participating in class. Do you single people out and ask questions? Do you simply continue to lecture? This is a personal decision but it’s a good idea to make it before the first class so that you don’t seem flustered. At the same time, don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something! There are some more useful tips available from Brown University here.

  • Try to learn the names of your students

Learning the names of the students in your class shows that you’re engaged and interested. It may take some time, but it is worth it if you can treat your students as individuals and not have to point or use phrases such as ‘you at the back’ every time you need to refer to someone. This can be achieved quite quickly if you have a photo roster available to you, or often it can be handy to ask students to make name badges for the first class or two. Show your enthusiasm for the course, and this starts with getting to know your students.

  • Don’t talk to the board

Often TAs (and teachers of any kind) make the mistake of facing away from the class as they write on the board (or read from a powerpoint, etc.), which means that you become harder to hear, seem less open to questions, and cannot see the students directly to gauge whether they’re following your class. Try to have an open stance and talk directly to the students! It can also be useful to periodically stop and check with students that they have understood and are paying attention, whether through asking a question, or even simply by asking if everyone understood.

  • Ask for help when you need it!

When you’re not sure what to do, keep in mind that you can always speak to the professor or course instructor for the course that you’re teaching. Professors or other TAs are always a good source of information and ideas about teaching. To that end, try to attend many of the professor’s lectures as possible so that you’re up to date with what they expect, and where students are having difficulties. Similarly, remember that you play the same role for students. Make yourself available to students and ensure that they’re aware you want to help them!

If you’d like more advice, we’ve found some more useful tips on the Washington University Teaching Center site, including advice specifically about grading and giving student feedback.  If you’re looking for jobsscholarships or PhD programs, head to the INOMICS website for a great list of offerings.

Photo credit: Ian Cook et al