In first-year classes with tutorial groups or labs (as well as second and third year classes), your teaching assistant is probably responsible for the vast majority, if not all, of your final grade in a class.
Thus, you should treat us like the gods we are: buying us coffee, bringing us food, doing our laundry and generally serving us in any possible way you can.
Don’t know what program to choose for next year? Unsure of where to get essay help on campus? Don’t know what to do after your degree? Considering grad school? Ask us.
OK, not really. That would get us fired, because it’s extremely unethical for several reasons. But the part of us being responsible for the bulk of your grade is certainly true.
And this is precisely why you should try and establish a good relationship with your TA: not only are they individual responsible for giving you your grade, but they are also in a key position to help you during your academic journey.
TAs are people, too
Some undergraduates find teaching assistants very scary and intimidating, but they shouldn’t. TAs have lives, friendships, families, pets, hobbies, awkward relationships, go out drinking, stress about school and oftentimes loathe their schoolwork just the same as undergrads.
The only real difference is that they decided they wanted to come back for more torture.
That and our papers are longer and our classes are much smaller.
And we’re possibly a lot more insane. But owing that, we’re really not that different (seriously).
Perhaps one of the easiest ways for you to do well in a course is to follow the directions that are given to you.
Treat the syllabus you are given at the beginning of the term as a holy text: do not lose it, and read it frequently!
Oftentimes your syllabus or other instructions given to you will explain exactly what you need to do in order to do well on an assignment. If you get a poor mark on an assignment because you did it incorrectly, chances are that you missed something that was in your syllabus.
However, if there is a point that you don’t understand something – course material, your assignment, what you need to know for the exam – ask us. If there are no questions we assume you understand. Always follow the rule of thumb (which I employed as an undergrad and still use in my own classes and told my students to use as well): when in doubt, ask.
At the same time, emailing us frantically the night before because you don’t understand something is not a way for us to sympathize with you. In fact, it is highly irritating.
We’ve been through this too
Don’t know what program to choose for next year? Unsure of where to get essay help on campus? Don’t know what to do after your degree? Considering grad school?
Ask us. We were undergrads once, and likely went through the same, or very similar, situations as you. Part of our role, in addition to being a marker and teacher is as a peer mentor, something that students often do not recognize.
In the end
You may not like every TA you have: you may get stuck with terrible ones, or you may have some really awesome ones. Sometimes it’s just luck of the draw in addition to how much work and effort your teaching assistant wants to put in their position.
Most of us genuinely do want our students to do well. However, there is only so much we can help you with: in university the onus is on you to do the work and get help if you don’t understand.
When it’s all over
After your course is completed and your grades are finalized, it is acceptable for you and your TA to become friends, if you both want it. A TA is just another student, after all.