Whether you are a new teaching assistant (TA) or an experienced TA for a course that is new to you, you need to know exactly what your responsibilities may be. The following is a list of questions to help you clarify your role, taken from Handbook for Teaching Assistants, University of Delaware, 1989.

  • What is my role? Will I be lecturing, leading discussions, running a tutorial, conducting labs, and/or grading? Will I be working in the online environment through the course management system?
  • How often will I be performing any of the above roles?
  • How does my supervisor define my role? (e.g., what is involved in running a tutorial?)
  • If I am to give individual assistance, how much help is too much?
    • What kind of assistance should I not give?
    • Should I organize group help/review sessions?
  • If I will be leading discussions, how should I run the sessions?
    • Should I stay close to the text or the lectures?
    • Should I encourage all students to talk or should I do most of the talking?
    • Should I only deal with students’ problems in discussions?
  • If I will be conducting labs, what is the scope of my responsibilities?
    • Do I keep track of supplies and materials?
    • Do I obtain supplies and materials?
    • Do I design or revise experiments?
    • Do I give demonstrations?
    • What do I do in case of emergency or accident?
  • If I am to evaluate/grade papers, projects, reports, quizzes, exams, and/or student participation, are the criteria for assigning grades clear?
  • Is the process/formula for determining a final grade clear?
    • Who reviews disputed grades?
    • How much time will I have for grading?
    • Should I make two copies of all grades?
  • What audio visual equipment do I need to know how to use? Am I responsible for getting and returning it, or do I book it from someone?
  • How much autonomy will I have to present new ideas, use different teaching methods, or present perspectives different from the instructor’s?
  • How many office hours should I hold and when?
  • Who will supervise me and under what criteria?
  • What should I do, whom should I contact, if I am unable to attend a class/lab/tutorial?
  • What other responsibilities will I have?

Getting answers to these questions may take time, but knowing the answers will help you approach your new task with confidence. Avoid being caught short by a lack of information.

teaching tipThis Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Teaching Assistant Checklist: Questions to Ask. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.