Supervising Teaching Assistants (TAs) is complex, since like graduate research supervision it involves interpersonal relationships as well as a need to assess student skills, identify areas and ways for improvement of those skills, and foster increased independence over time. However, the TA–supervisor relationship is also a working relationship, with employer and employee expectations and duties, bound by a collective agreement and provincial workplace codes.
In terms of TA supervision, two main issues are:
- What do TAs know and what are they able to do?
- How can you design TA responsibilities to account for the variety of abilities among your TAs?
Uncovering one’s strengths and weaknesses as a teacher is an important part of professional development for all instructors, and the Teaching Assistant and Graduate Student Advancement (TAGSA) group (affiliated with the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE)) encourages this skill as one of the important competencies that supervisors should help TAs develop. They recommend several possible learning activities/goals/outcomes, including:
- Define the values and goals of your discipline and describe how these will inform your approach to TA work
- List your teaching related experience and the associated skills that you bring to the teaching assistant role (for example, from being a swimming instructor or tutor).
- Recall successful teaching strategies that you encountered during your undergraduate degree and previous TA experience (if applicable).
As a supervisor, you might:
- include a question as part of the initial TA appointment process that asks students to discuss strengths and weaknesses, and then distribute this information to faculty supervisors
- create a questionnaire (see example on final page) and ask that TAs fill it out before the first supervisory meeting and then at the meeting discuss and generalize about results
- have a conversation about teaching strengths and weaknesses (including your own) in an initial meeting with all TAs before the semester begins
- encourage your TAs to do the work discussed above independently as part of their own professional development and/or as a step towards a teaching dossier; discuss their discoveries informally
If you are supervising multiple TAs and graders in a teaching team, you may find it useful to identify strengths and prioritize workloads accordingly. As a supervisor, you might:
- figure out TAs’ academic content expertise using department-provided documents or informal discussions: what courses have they taken? What content do they know/not know?
- figure out TAs’ teaching and learning expertise using similar methods. What do they know about pedagogy in your discipline and in general? What prior teaching and grading experiences have they had?
- set clear expectations, but be prepared to modify those expectations.
- develop a flexible strategy for TA work assignments so that you can take advantage of your team’s strengths rather than feel limited by its weaknesses
- promote professional development resources. (see below)
Teaching Assistant and Graduate Student Advancement (TAGSA), a special interest group of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE).
The Transforming Teaching Toolkit by the Centre for Teaching & Learning, Queen’s University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.