Teaching Assistant Handbook
Compiled by Prof. Gary E. Ford, September 1999
Revised by Prof. Richard R. Spencer, July, 2000
The responsibility of a TA is to assist with instruction in an undergraduate course, under the supervision of the instructor in charge of the course. The TA assists with answering student questions in office hours, preparing problem sets and their solutions, administering examinations and preparing their solutions and grading guides, staffing laboratory sessions, grading laboratory notebooks and reports, and assisting with course administration.
Of equal importance are the elements of instruction that are the responsibility of the faculty instructor rather than the TA. TAs are not responsible for the instructional content of a course, for selection of student assignments, for planning of examinations, or for determining the term grade for students. A TA is not to be assigned responsibility for instructing the entire enrollment of a course or for providing the entire instruction of a group of students enrolled in a course. In ECE, the instructor is responsible for conducting lecture and discussion sessions, although the TA may be asked to assist with discussion sessions.
In certain courses, an undergraduate or graduate student will be appointed to serve as a reader. The reader, who may be supervised by a TA, is typically responsible for grading weekly problem assignments, using solutions and grading guides prepared by the TA or instructor. In some cases, the reader will assist with the grading of examinations or laboratory notebooks, but only under the direct and close supervision of a teaching assistant or the instructor.
The following is a list and short description of the types of responsibilities that will be expected of an ECE TA. More detailed information on handling these responsibilities is given elsewhere in this document.
- Office hours: regularly scheduled times for students to ask questions regarding lecture, laboratory, or discussion material, problem sets, examinations, or other course projects.
- Problem sets: preparation of assignments, their solutions and grading guides.
- Readers: supervising their grading of problem sets.
- Laboratory: preparation of assignments, staffing laboratory sessions, grading notebooks and reports.
- Course administration: preparation and management of course web materials; management of student records.
Time Commitment and Expectations
A 0.50 FTE (50%) Teaching Assistant assignment is considered to entail an average time commitment of approximately 20 hours per week. [The acronym "FTE" is used throughout the campus for "full time equivalent". It is an accounting unit of measure, and 1 FTE is equivalent to one person working a 40-hour week.]
On average, you should work the number of hours for which you are being paid. However, from one week to the next, the time required may vary. For example, during the first week of classes, there may not be a lab or discussion section, and students often do not show up at office hours since homework is modest. On the other hand, during the week a midterm is given you may be asked to help evaluate exams as well as perform the usual laboratory duties.
Typically, you will need to spend time preparing for both the laboratory and/or discussion. You will also be asked to grade laboratory assignments and some of the examinations. The actual time commitment will vary with factors such as enrollment, number and type of examinations to be graded, voluntary review sessions before exams, number and type of laboratory reports to be graded, number and type of homework sets to be graded, and instructor expectations.
If your own understanding of the material being covered is not as complete as can reasonably be expected based on your background, then you might also need to spend time reviewing the material yourself. This extra review time is NOT part of your job and should not be counted in the hours you work.
Standards of Conduct
Teaching assistants are held to the same standards of conduct as faculty members. Unacceptable conduct includes denial of access to instruction, significant intrusion of unrelated material, evaluation of students by criteria not reflective of performance, undue and unexcused delay in evaluation, and failure to hold class, office hours, or examinations as scheduled. Any use of your position to coerce or cause harm to a student and any form of discrimination for arbitrary or personal reasons is deemed unacceptable. Also, you may not participate in or deliberately abet disruption, interference, or intimidation in the classroom. Finally, you should follow the instructions given to you by the faculty member in charge of the course. In the event of a grievance, there is a procedure which should be followed. The first step, of course, is to speak to the faculty member in charge of the course. If that does not resolve the difficulty, you should speak to the Vice Chair for Undergraduate Studies. If the matter is still unresolved, you should speak to the department chair and if that fails you should consult the Dean of Graduate Studies.
As a teaching assistant you are also responsible for some things not listed in any university policy statement. You are the human link between the student and the university. You are an advocate for the students and as such you are trusted by them. Because you are both a student and a teacher, you are in a unique position. You are the one in the middle -- the conduit through which information and responses flow. As such you hold the trust of the students and the ear of the professor. This is, perhaps, one of the most important roles you will play.