Being a Teaching Assistant (TA) can be a rewarding and valuable experience if you approach it appropriately. Not only do you have the opportunity to obtain either remuneration or course credit, but it can also serve as a review for topics covered on the Graduate Record Exam or pre-professional admission tests. The grading you will do may also help you avoid mistakes you might otherwise make in your classes and may help you to study for your remaining courses better. For this to happen, you must take your job as TA seriously.
Teaching Assistants are considered to be professionals. Conduct during laboratory sessions or when dealing with students at other times should be in accord with this standard. It is expected your conduct will serve as an appropriate example for the students whom you help to supervise.
You may find the following guidelines helpful:
Before the first day of class:
- Decide whether you are willing to make a 15 week commitment to doing a good job as a TA. If you’re not sure, do not agree to do it.
- Do not assume that all instructors have the same rules and expectations. See your instructor before the first day of lab to find out what his/her policies are. Provide your instructor with your email address and telephone number so that s/he has a way of contacting you between class periods, if necessary.
- Be early. Most of the time there are last minute things to do, so plan to arrive 10 minutes before the beginning of the laboratory period. Find out if your instructor would like you to come by his/her office instead of the classroom.
- Read the lab before coming to class. Students will not respect your advice and instruction if you have to read the experiment in front of them before providing assistance.
- You are to make sure WELL BEFORE the lab is to begin that all of the materials, equipment and waste containers that are needed for the lab have been set out and are properly labeled and ready for use. If something is missing, notify the lab or stockroom manager immediately.
- In general, TAs are responsible for the following tasks:
- Check-in & check-out
- Enforcement of safety rules
- Grading lab reports
- Pre- and post-lab safety checks
- Post-lab clean-up
- You may be required to attend pre-lab lectures. You should pay attention to the lectures because this promotes consistency in answering student questions.
- Treat students in the class as you want to be treated. Be courteous. Avoid arrogance and condescension. However, you should not tolerate disobeying of safety rules, failure to follow instructions, or lack of effort or attention.
- Do not criticize the class, instructor, or other teaching assistants in the presence of students. It is imperative that student confidence be maintained. Inevitably, there will be problems with reagents or procedures, and mistakes will be made. However, all such difficulties should be handled privately. If you expect your statements and decisions to be supported, extend the same consideration to your colleagues and supervisor.
- Do your part to maintain a serious but enjoyable atmosphere in the laboratory. Students should not be intimidated, but boisterous or silly behavior is to be avoided.
- Do not become too friendly with students. Avoid any implication that there is a conflict of interest. In particular, if you have a preexisting relationship with a student (either social or romantic) let your instructor know as soon as possible. Do not develop such relationships during the time you are supervising the class to which you are assigned.
- Remember that part of your duties will be to enforce the safety rules of the laboratory including the requirement that students must wear eye protection at all times. You cannot effectively enforce this rule unless you set a good example by being very conscientious about always wearing your own goggles and paying attention to all the safety rules.
- If a student becomes injured, immediately notify the instructor, or if that person is not immediately available, the stockroom or laboratory manager. Do not leave the injured student, but send someone else to find the instructor.
- If a piece of laboratory equipment is not working, give it to the instructor or laboratory manager for repair. Likewise, if reagents are running low, let the instructor know so that a crisis can be avoided.
- Radios, MP3 players, and similar devices are not permitted in the laboratory for either TAs or students. Cellular phones should be turned off during the laboratory.
- Make sure that students place their waste in the proper container. When any waste container becomes three quarters full you should replace it with a new container (see the stockroom manager). Make sure that lids are kept on the waste containers and reagent bottles at all times. Do not allow students to use unlabelled containers for any chemicals.
- Teaching assistants should not congregate during the lab. You should spend most of your time circulating and checking on student performance. When you gather in groups, students feel that you are not interested in helping them.
- Find out from your instructor how s/he want lab reports graded. After you have done that, you and the other TAs should agree on major points of grading to be consistent.
- Before you leave the lab, make sure that the balances and bench tops are clean, waste containers are sealed, and loose equipment/glassware have been returned to their normal storage location. Always be considerate of the next person and leave things as you would like to find them.
- Make sure to understand how the instructor wants the reports graded, including what grading scale to use. Furthermore, if you have any doubt as to the answer to a pre-/post-lab question make sure to ask the instructor. We understand that you are still students and may not know or recall the answers to everything. It is far better for you to check with us than to miss-grade papers.
Before each class period:
During the class period:
After the class period: