Centre for Teaching and Learning

Centre for Teaching and Learning
Centre for Teaching and Learning

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Whether you are a first-time teaching assistant (TA) or an experienced TA, there are some things you might want to consider (or brush up on!) before you start teaching this semester.

What is the TA Toolkit? This TA Toolkit was developed by the Educational Development Associates (EDA) at the Centre for Teaching and Learning, and it seeks to introduce you to some of the basic principles needed for in-class, online, or remote instruction.This toolkit does not include everything; rather, it is a starting point for discussion, and an invitation for further learning. In addition to reading this resource, it is essential to keep in contact with the instructor you are working with in order to understand their pedagogical preferences, and clarify your role within the course. You will also be able to learn from other TAs in your department. We encourage you to share strategies and be involved in each others’ learning, especially when challenges arise and you have questions you need answered.  The EDAs at the CTL are also here to support graduate students and post-docs throughout the term and can be reached at:  TA&GradCTL@queensu.ca.   

Before we start, we should clarify some terminology. The courses we are most familiar with are face-to-face: students and instructor(s) meet weekly for lecture, and then might meet independently (on the same day or on a different day) with their TA for tutorials or labs. Another type of teaching environment is blended learning, which combines online educational materials and opportunities for interaction, with face-to-face classroom time. This means that online activities will be equally meaningful as in-class engagements, and as a TA, you will likely have to guide students in the online portion of the course. Another type of course you might be asked to TA for is one that is fully online. Here, all materials, resources, instruction and participation will be online.

Online or remote instruction will either be provided synchronously or asynchronously. While asynchronous instruction can be accessed at any time (and from different locations), synchronous instruction must have students and instructor(s) connect online at the same time. Asynchronous methods of sharing content are generally more inclusive and accessible than synchronous (live) methods. However, opportunities for students to connect with their instructor(s) in real time are helpful ways of building relationships and community. 

Types of Teaching Assistantships

Depending on your contract, department or course, you may have one of the following types of teaching assistantships:

Photo of book with glasses resting on them

Teaching Assistant (TA): TAs might work in face-to-face, online, remote learning environments or a combination of these delivery methods. The TA conducts labs, tutorials or seminars, moderates online forums, grades papers, assignments or exams, and answers student questions by email, in meetings, or during office hours (face to face or online). Some TAs are also offered the opportunity to guest lecture within the course. 

Students working together

Lead Teaching Assistant: Generally more experienced with the course, the Lead TA acts as a liaison between other TAs and the course instructor. They organize and conduct regular TA meetings, answer questions, support other TAs in creating tutorials, coordinating lab sessions, draft grading rubrics etc. 

Lined paper and red pen

Grader: A grader does not generally have any in-class or tutorial time with students. Their main responsibility is to grade assignments, essays, lab reports, online forums, midterms and final exams. They can also be asked to hold office hours and answer student emails about marks, or questions related to the course.    

Image of lab beakers and supplies

Laboratory TA: A laboratory TA is responsible for the supervision of laboratory activities for a particular course. They might be involved in setting up the lab, overseeing students performing experiments, assisting students with lab equipment, and grading lab reports or assignments.


First Steps to Being a TA: Questions for your Course Instructor

For each course that you are a TA, we encourage you to meet with the course instructor to go over your contract. With the instructor, set clear expectations about what you can contribute to the course (skills, research focus) and what you wish to get out of the opportunity (training, experience, mentorship). We encourage you to ask questions to the course instructor in order to clarify your responsibilities.

The Teaching Assistant Checklist: Questions to Ask was compiled by the University of Waterloo and is a great resource that includes an extensive list of questions you might ask your course instructor to ensure that you are aware of your responsibilities and that you have sufficient resources and support to complete your TA role successfully.

Remember that you can check-in with the course instructor throughout the term, and that you can revisit these questions as you go. If you have any questions about your TA contract, we encourage you to connect with the TA, TF, RA and Post-Doc Union PSAC 901.

Teaching Assistant Checklist: Questions to Ask, University of Waterloo (PDF, 152.2KB)

Know Your Rights and Responsibilities as a TA

Graduate teaching assistants (TA), graduate teaching fellows (TF), graduate research assistants (RA), as well as JD and MD teaching assistants are represented by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC 901). 

On the PSAC 901 website, you can find a copy of the Collective Agreement that governs TA, TF, and RA labour. Familiarize yourself with your rights, and know that you can contact the Union if you need any support: PSAC Collective Agreement



This toolkit is a living, dynamic document. We are working to add resources and update this TA Toolkit based on the needs of TAs across the Queen's University campus. Check back periodically for updates!