Teaching Assistant and Instructional Apprentice duty guidelines

Duty guidelines and best practices

TAs and IAs may have varied experiences with teaching and providing course support. Below are some of the best practices for TAs and IAs supporting computer science courses to get a better understanding of what you can expect for a TA term. You can also find more information on our Resources page.

All TAs and IAs are expected to familiarize themselves with the course content in their own time. Course instructors (or ISCs for ISG supported courses) will determine the specific duties that you are to perform; not everyone is responsible for all of the duties listed here.

Student led tutorial in a lecture hall

Course staff meetings

ISAs, IAs, and sometimes TAs, may be required to attend a weekly course staff meetings. These meetings give the staff an opportunity to give feedback to the course instructors, and the ISC concerning the performance of the students as well as to raise concerns related to the delivery of course content and any insights that may have been observed in lectures, tutorials, or office hours.


ISAs/TAs are usually involved in marking assignments while ISAs/IAs/TAs are all expected to proctor and grade examinations. If not handled by ISAs, IAs/TAs may also be required to develop model solutions, marking schemes, or develop scripts for auto-marking. A marking training session is typically provided during ISA/TA orientation.

The course instructor/ISC should inform you marking deadlines/expectations at the beginning of the term. If not handled by the instructor, ISAs/IAs will coordinate marking meetings to inform markers about each assignment's marking expectations. In large courses, all course staff may get together to mark midterms and finals in the same room or at least at the same time.

Marking guidelines

  • Even if a marking scheme is provided, work the problems out yourself before starting to grade the assignments. Your solution may be quite acceptable but different from the solution used in the marking scheme. Keep all solutions beside you while grading.
  • Do not deviate from the marking scheme. If you believe that a student should receive a higher or lower mark that does not align with the scheme, you should get the opinion of another marker or the instructor beforehand.
  • Make notes on your marking scheme of particular situations that warrant different marks and discuss these with marking staff and the instructors. This keeps the marking more consistent across submissions.
  • Some courses may provide a list of common errors to students when returning grades. ISAs/Instructors may ask all markers to provide errors that were observed frequently.

Marking tips

  • Start marking early. This will give you more time to ask questions when you're unsure and will alleviate pressures of marking deadlines.
  • Grade one problem at a time. This can keep your mind from becoming cluttered with details from other problems.
  • Positive feedback on a student's assignment is as important as negative feedback.
  • Let fairness to all students in the course be your guide. Avoid practices that may be interpreted as discriminatory.


The Office of Academic Integrity specifies what constitutes cheating and the appeals process available to students. Marking staff should forward any suspected cases of cheating to the instructor or ISCs. Markers should not confront students themselves. 


The following are some guidelines for proctoring midterm and final exams. A proctoring training may be conducted by your instructor/ISC.

Prior to the exam

  1. Tape a location lookup sheet to the wall near each door of the exam room, and keep at least one copy in the exam room.
  2. Using the seating map for your assigned room, distribute the exam papers face-up on alternate seats. 
  3. Write announcements on the board, including:
    • The start and end times of exam.
    • No student may leave within the first hour of the exam or in the last 10 minutes of the exam (if there are exceptions to this, you will be informed by your instructor/ISC).
  4. After you are set up, and about 7-10 minutes before the start time, let the students into the room. Make announcements as follows:
    • Get out your WatCard and place it on your desk.
    • Place your notes, books, coats, etc. on the floor.
  5. Read the instructions on the front of the exam before starting the exam.

During the Exam

  1. Collect signatures using the provided signature lists:
    • Have the students sign beside their name/ID number.
    • Check that the name they sign on the exam and on the signature list matches the name on the label on the exam and the name on the WatCard and that the picture on the WatCard resembles the student.
    • Check that the number of signatures you have collected is the same as the number of bodies in your section.
    • If a student does not have a student ID card, you may accept another form of photo ID instead and add a note to the signature sheet.
    • Collect signature of late arrivals as well.
    • This seems like a straightforward task, but following these instructions will minimize the risk of students cheating on an exam.
    • In case the signature lists are not provided you may use a signup sheet to collect signatures. Here is a sample Sign Up Sheet (PDF).
  2. If students arrive within an hour of the exam starting, write the time of arrival on their exam.
    • Students who arrive more than one hour late (or whatever the time is for when students may leave) may be barred from writing the exam. Ask the ISC/instructor for a decision.
  3. Answer questions according to the guidelines set out by the instructor.
    • Some exams may prohibit answering any content related questions. If you are uncertain of an answer, ask another proctor or the instructor.
  4. If a student wishes to go to the washroom, ask that they leave their phone on the desk/in their bag before leaving. 
    • A proctor should walk the student to the washroom; if this is not possible allow only one student at a time to go to the bathroom.
  5. Give a 10-minute warning before the end of the exam.
    • Announce that students should make sure their name is on all pages of the exam and that they should not leave the room, but should wait in their seats until the end of the exam.

After the exam

  1. Collect, sort and count the exam papers. Make sure the number of papers you have is the same as the number of people that wrote in your room.
  2. Clear all the location lookup sheets you taped to the wall.
  3. Return the exam papers to the designated meeting area to be scanned for marking.

Faculty of Mathematics proctor pool

As a TA under the Faculty of Mathematics, IAs and TAs are automatically apart of the proctoring pool, and may be called upon to assist in the proctoring of another course's examination (midterm or final).

The assignment is random, and you are not expected to be familiar with the course material. Should you be selected, the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies or an approved delegate will notify you.

Answering questions

Dealing with questions from the students is a large part of:

  • consulting hours,
  • monitoring discussion forums (e.g. Piazza),
  • conducting tutorials, and
  • lab supervision.

Staff must be careful how they answer some questions. Too much help prevents students from learning and too little help frustrates students. A good first response is to ask the student to show you their work and explain it to you.

Whenever possible, staff should help the students to discover the causes and cures of problems. This can be done by asking the students questions that lead the students from what they know to what they have overlooked, or by referring them to resources available to them at that time (e.g. the course/lab notes or textbook) that contain the answer.

For lab or programming assignments always encourage the students to use debugging techniques (e.g. debugger, print statements, etc. to solve the problem themselves. If the students need more help than this, explain the situation clearly to the students so that they will be able to recognize and solve the problem for themselves in the future.

Never tell the students the solutions to their assigned problems or make them feel incompetent. If it appears that a large amount of your time may be required by one student during the lab/tutorial session or office hours, an appointment should be made to meet this student outside of the scheduled sessions/office hours. This will ensure equal access time for all students during the scheduled period.

Office hours

The primary responsibility during office hours is to answer course content related questions (see Answering Questions). If a student from another course asks a question, you may attempt to answer it if it's for general information. For questions about courses that you are not supporting, please advise the student to contact someone responsible for the course currently. 

ISAs are required to maintain regular consulting hours to provide help for students. Some courses will require this duty from IAs/TAs as well. The instructor/ISC will inform you of the minimum number of weekly consulting hours and recommend days/times that work best with the course's assessments and instructor office hours.

While some courses may hold office hours virtually, in-person office hoursshould be held in the CS Consulting Centre (MC4065). Please contact your ISC, instructor, or Daniel Huab to get key access to the Consulting Centre and to book an appropriate time and station.

Tutorials and Labs

In addition to lectures, some courses will have scheduled tutorial or lab sections. They are typically led by an ISA, an IA, and sometimes both. These sections should be extensions of the lectures to reinforce student learning. Your instructor/ISC should inform you of which tutorial/lab section you are assigned to at the beginning of the term. 


The purpose of tutorials is to supplement lecture content by reviewing important concepts, providing additional examples, guiding students through practice problems, or allow for students to ask questions.

Additional training should be provided at the start of the term for ISAs/IAs who are assigned tutorials. In some cases, a model tutorial may be conducted by an experienced course staff member; IAs should attend this session as part of the preparation for their own tutorials. 

An ISA or IA may be required to prepare content and conduct the tutorial session with guidance from the course instructors.


The purpose of labs is to provide students time and space to complete lab-specific assignments, or allow students to ask course specific questions depending on the course. 

During the scheduled lab period course staff are to be present in the lab and available to help students with any concerns that arise from the lab/course material. Staff should not be involved in other activities at this time so that they will be free to circulate among the students. Staff should be proactive in the scheduled lab sessions.

Staff who supervise labs are also responsible for ensuring the smooth operation of the lab. They must become familiar with lab regulations and enforce them where necessary. They are also responsible for the lab equipment, and must report all equipment failures to the Computer Science Computing Facility (CSCF).

Discussion forum maintenance

Some courses have established discussion forums (e.g. Piazza, edX) for answering students' questions and posting important pieces of information for the students, such as corrections to assignments. It may be the ISAs/IAs/TAs responsibility to monitor, update, and respond to students on these discussion boards. 

Connect with your instructor/ISC if you require access to the forums or have questions about management. Refer to the Answering questions section for best practices.

What's the difference between TAs and IAs?

Both IAs and TAs are expected to support exam proctoring and examination marking. The number of hours worked should also be the same per unit. It's in the given duties where the positions differ.

In most courses TAs are responsible for marking assignments (typically weekly). IAs' may be responsible for a subset of the following duties that are not typically assigned to TAs:

  • Coordinating other TAs for marking assignments
  • Creating marking schemes/solution sets
  • Holding office hours (in-person or virtually)
  • Monitoring discussion forums (e.g. Piazza)
  • Assisting in labs
  • Leading tutorials

You'll notice that IAs have a lot more student interaction and input on the course delivery. 

Instructional Apprentice (IA) FAQ

Why would I choose to work as an IA instead of as a TA?

If you are interested in teaching, the experience provided by an IA will give you a more accurate and broad view of relevant skills. Skills developed by working as an IA may include skills in instruction, communication, assignment creation, etc. These skills are transferable to future employment (academic or not) and would not be developed by an average TA marker.

Further, there is an opportunity to observe different teaching styles upon working with multiple instructors closely. Your experience will give you valuable feedback on whether or not you enjoy this line of work, and will also give us a good way to assess your suitability to work as a sessional instructor during your graduate studies or as a professor after earning your degree.

Some IAs prefer to talk to students about computer science content as opposed to marking individual assignments. It's a matter of preference of how you want to spend your time as well.

Is being an IA more challenging than being a TA?

An IA is often given more responsibility than TAs are, and as a consequence plays a more central role in a course. You will need to demonstrate organization, punctuality, dependability, and good time management skills in order to meet deadlines and adhere to schedules. When selecting IAs, ISCs will keep a look out for willingness to perform IA-related duties, relevant experience, and might also consider promoting students who have TA'd the course several time.

Depending on the specific IA job, it might not be appropriate for you to leave town on workdays during the term. Typically you should be available from the start of term (preferably a few days earlier) through to the completion of the marking and recording of the final exam.

How can I be considered for an IA position?

Our Instructional Support Coordinators (ISCs) will make the final decision when assigning IA positions for their courses.

As of Spring 2024, the TA preference form now allows eligible students to express their preferred courses and even show preference for IA positions. To be considered for an IA position at all, complete the Course preferences section of the form by choosing courses with [IA] in the title. This is the first filter that allows for ISCs to determine who is interested in becoming an IA.

To improve your chances of receiving a position, show interest in some of the IA-specific duties (face-to-face consulting, course development, conducting tutorials, etc.). Be sure to highlight any previous teaching/TA experience on the form, especially if you have supported the course previously. IAs will be selected relative to your ranking and the skills and experiences you specified in the form.

Can I hold an IA position and a TA position in the same term?

Yes! Graduate students often are required to have term with 2.0 TA units which can be split across any combination of TA / IA positions.

It is beneficial for a course to split double units into 1 TA position and 1 IA position since it allows for consistency on both the backend course development and the frontline experience with students. It can also reduce workload compared to double units spread across 2 TA positions (double the marking) or 2 IA units.

Can I hold an IA even if I have used up all my TA eligibility?

Similarly to TA units for over-eligible students in general, first priority will be given to students who still have eligibility.

Based on your previous experience and a demand for IAs, you can be assigned to an IA position if you are beyond your funding at the discretion of the Grad Office and the CS TA Assignment Team. 

  • Graduate Students
  • Current graduate students