Centre for Teaching and Learning

Centre for Teaching and Learning
Centre for Teaching and Learning

Interview with a Lab Teaching Assistant

What are the major challenges that you have encountered in this role? How did you deal with the challenges?

Sometimes, communication can be difficult when working with large groups of Teaching Assistants (TAs).When the group needs to prepare for a pre-lab or a meeting, coordination may be difficult especially when taking turns. Most of the time few TAs find themselves bearing the brunt of coordination. However, creating a Facebook group for keeping in touch and or sending email reminders helps overcome this problem. Basically, having a mode of communication either through email, social media, or weekly meetings can help address this problem.

Another main challenge is juggling between TAing more than one lab, course work and research. The work load as a TA depends on the course and the amount of courses you take on. To be of top if your game, It is important to stay organized.

Further, every student learns differently and may or may not respond well to the TA’s teaching style. Hence TAs must be observant especially during the first few weeks and tactfully adapt methods of teaching to students learning. Handing out feedback forms with constructive questions can address this.

What aspect(s) do you enjoy about this role?

Working with students and helping them to understand concepts. Explaining concepts from multiple points of view requires preparation and research prior to each lab.There is the feeling of joy when students understand what you teach them. It means that you accomplished your goal. I enjoy teaching and mentoring students, also reviewing course materials more in depth and studying the material in order to teach it.

What do you think are the relevant skills that a TA needs to have when working primarily as a laboratory TA?

Good communication skills are important. Being able to speak well in front of people and explain concepts in different ways is great. Other great skills to have are organization and time management. This helps TAs  to remain on top of lab materials.Humility is a virtue. Humbly admit when you make mistakes especially when they are pointed out by students. When you make errors, apologize, find out the right answer and make sure your students know the right answer. Yes, TAs cannot know everything and that is perfectly normal.

Also, as a TA, you need to be punctual, well organized and prepare in advance. Students’ confidence in a TA wanes when the TA is often not on time, does not seem to 
know the course material and or appear ill-prepared for the labs. Also be patient, positive and encouraging. Instilling the sense of belief and genuine confidence in students will have a dramatic and positive impact on them.

What final piece of advice do you have for people who may have this role in the future?

The most important piece of advice is to adequate preparation before a lab. Review the material, look up memory tricks for the students, and google concepts or new information in the field. It is helpful for the students to provide context and it is important that you know your stuff. That being said, if you are asked a question in the lab, it is okay if you do not know the answer, but make sure to take the time to research and get back to the student with the right answer. This means a lot to them and will help you stand out as a TA.

Have fun. Do not view this as a chore however see this as an opportunity to expand your knowledge, experience and interest in what you want to learn more about. Be responsible and selfless. You have the choice to impact the students however you want to. Why not put a bit more work and a bit more time to help them succeed?

Marking – As long as you are good at coordinating with your fellow TAs and discussing answers, marking will be an easy and consistent process. Keep in mind though that marking always takes longer hours than you anticipate.

Creating assignments/exams - Most of these are created by the instructor of the course, however practice exams are always appreciated to help the student get a grasp of contents.

Attending lectures - TAs usually do not attend lectures, especially if they have already taken the course or an equivalent one and know what to expect. However, this may differ depending on the course.

Teaching amount – Most of your teaching will be in the lab. However, you may also give a guest lecture in some courses which is an awesome opportunity. This helps you become more approachable in the lab setting.

Answering emails – Students may send emails from time to time. Being quick to respond helps you be more approachable, and ultimately benefits the student. Sometimes it is hard to explain concepts over email, but trying to do this is better than nothing.

Interacting with students face to face – This comes up a lot in the lab setting especially. It is very rewarding to meet with a student and help them grasp concepts they didn’t understand before.

Interacting with the prof - Professors are usually a really great. It is important to remember that they are a resource to the students and to you. They are available to answer any questions about the role.

Working with other TAs – The biggest thing to do when working on a team is develop a platform for communication so that everyone is on the same page.