Being a Teaching Assistant (or TA) can be very rewarding. But if you’re taking on the role for the first time, it can also be challenging.
As you adopt the role of “the expert”, you will have to work with your students’ expectations of what a teacher is, the professor’s expectations for teaching and marking in a timely manner, and your own personal expectations.
So is a TA role right for you? Read on to find out!
Learn from professors
When you become a TA, you gain a new type of relationship with professors in your department. Suddenly, you are no longer just one of their pupils – you are also a colleague, a fellow teacher, and an employee who is now directly involved in the success of a course.
It may be a bit intimidating to suddenly be in an authority role. Your job is to explain and support the professor’s teachings, and enhance your students’ learning experience.
Of course, every professor has their own teaching style – TAs need to become an extension of the framework they provide. It’s imperative that a TA takes time to understand the teaching style and aims of the professor in order to provide effective lessons to their students.
When you attend lectures, don’t just take notes on the lesson material. Take it a step further – pay attention to the professor’s teaching strategies, and record their methods of communicating information. This will help you to recognize their teaching methods, their purposes, and the ways students respond to them. If you have any doubts about their approach, it never hurts to ask them directly!
Of course, you may not agree with all of your professor’s methods. But as a new educator, gathering this type of information and applying the effective parts to your teaching style will help you become more effective in your role. You’ll develop your own teaching philosophy, which you may need if you decide to apply for jobs in academia.
Dealing with expectations
It’s natural to be concerned about your level of performance. Many TAs find themselves worrying about the impression they are leaving on their students – you probably don’t meet their expectations of a typical teacher, since you are much younger and probably a student yourself!
Keep in mind that while you may not have as much experience as a seasoned professor, you still have a lot more experience than most of the students sitting in front of you. They are there to learn from you, and your title as a TA alone gives them a sense of your authority in the classroom.
There is also the expectation from your professor to complete the tasks you’re assigned. This can include attending lectures, marking papers and projects, and addressing student questions outside of class time. With all of these new responsibilities on top of your existing busy schedule, it can be a challenge to meet each deadline.
Make sure you manage your time effectively – set up an organizer in a notebook or on a mobile device. Mark down all of your main deadlines at the beginning of the semester, and block out the amount of time you need to complete each task. When in doubt, block out extra time for larger tasks to ensure you have time to finish everything!
Getting up and speaking in front of an audience can be nerve-wracking for some. A good way to address these feelings is to shift your focus – instead of thinking about making mistakes, consider how you can play to your strengths.
You have a huge advantage as a TA – chances are, you are much more relatable to your students than your main professor is. As someone who is in a similar age demographic, and has recently been in the same position as them, they may feel more comfortable approaching you for advice.
Because of this, you have the opportunity to set the tone in your classroom – it does not have to be as formal as the main lectures. This is your chance to connect with your students and answer specific questions on a personal level. And while the content should cover the same content and concepts as the main lecture, you have a chance to create a more dynamic, hands-on approach.
A lot of TAs may worry that they do not come off as knowledgeable to their students. While you may be going through a similar learning curve, remember that they do not expect you to know everything. Admitting you don’t know the answer, but offering to find out goes a long way with students. It shows that you genuinely want to help them learn.