You and Your Teaching Assistant
A teaching assistant is usually a person who has
been admitted to graduate school in the department
that offers the course you are taking.
They are taking graduate classes and preparing for exams
and doing research as their academic responsibility.
This person also has a job to do and you can help them
do it. Their job is to help you learn the
ideas that are being presented in lecture, and to practice
them using a computer. You need to work with your TA!
Teaching Assistants typically work with a course coordinator or
supervisor. They have some authority in their sections, but
some things (such as makeup exams) are decided by the supervisor.
General course policies are usually determined by the supervisor
in consultation with the Teaching Assistants.
ASK QUESTIONS! It is one of the most important things you can do.
Do NOT assume that the TA knows that you don't understand something.
Tell them! you will look "stupid" only if you sit there and
let the opportunity go by.
Teaching Assistants are like
any other instructor; they don't know what
students don't understand until the students tell them.
If a TA does not communicate well, then let them know you are
having trouble understanding them. Ask for repeats, ask for
things in writing, try to rephrase what they said to see if
you understood it. Give them feedback!
It is a challenge to communicate
with someone of another culture, but it is often
worth the work. It is an advantage of university life
that you get the opportunity.
It is NOT their job to "handfeed" you. They will try to
answer every question possible. BUT you have to meet them
half way by putting some time and thought into your work.
READ! read the textbook, the lab manual, the web page for
the class. If you don't understand something, ask about it!
Do not expect your TA to give you the answers. They
are specifically instructed NOT to do that. You learn something
much better if you reason it out or look it up yourself.
They can provide guidance to help you get where you're going.
Do not expect your TA to bail you out at the last minute.
Even if they wanted to, there are too few of them and too many of you!
You should expect that your TA will know where the class web page
is, and generally when assignments are due.
You should expect that your TA will answer your email in a reasonable
amount of time. Don't expect instant answers; they have lives and
You should expect that your TA will be on time to the scheduled
meetings and their office hours and that they will meet for the
time alloted. If this is not
the case, communicate with the course supervisor.
You should not expect that your TA can answer every single
question immediately. But if it is a legitimate class-related
question, they should be able to get back to you with an answer
in a reasonable amount of time.
You should expect feedback on your written assignments, more
than just a single number. If you don't get it, ASK for it!
You should expect to be able to understand the basis you
were graded on, both on an individual assignment and overall
for the course. If you don't, ASK questions!
You should expect to receive your written assignments back within
a reasonable time if you attend class regularly.
- You should expect your grades to be kept as private as
- If you find a mistake in grading, notify your TA as soon
as possible. Do not wait until finals week!
If you miss class, it is YOUR job to contact the TA and see
what you missed. It is NOT their job to find YOU!
If you have a problem with your TA, tell them about it first.
It may simply be a misunderstanding, or something that can
be easily corrected if it is discussed. If the problem isn't
solved, communicate with the course supervisor.
Remember that it is YOUR education that you are working for;
other people can help you get it, but YOU have to put out