Teaching assistant manual

teaching assistant in lab

Responsibilities and resources 

As a teaching assistant (TA), you are accountable to the university, the Faculty of Health, your Department/School, the course instructor and the students in the course you are assigned to.

TA contract

You will receive a contract from your Department/School detailing TA hours (typically 160 hours per term), start and end dates, responsibilities and expectations. Review this document carefully to ensure that you understand the expectations of your role.

Mandatory training

TA-specific training may change on a year-to-year basis. You will receive information about TA training during orientation week. 

All UWaterloo employees are required to complete certain mandatory training courses:

  • SO1001 Employee safety orientation
  • SO1081 Workplace violence awareness
  • SO2017 WHMIS 2015
  • AODA accessible customer service training

Faculty of Health graduate students are required to complete an academic integrity milestone, which includes the completion of:

  1. an in-person workshop,
  2. an online module, Graduate Students and Academic Integrity, and
  3. a milestone form.

Instructions on accessing the online module and answers to frequently asked questions can be found on the Academic Integrity website. 

Research ethics training is required for UWaterloo researchers. Please see the Research website for information about mandatory and optional research ethics training courses.

Additional training

Communicating with the course instructor

Before the course begins:

  • Obtain a copy of the textbook or course notes that the class will be using.
  • Find out when the classes will be held and whether you are expected to attend.
  • Discuss when and where your office hours will be held and for how long.
  • Determine what your responsibilities are as a TA for the course.
  • Ensure that you have access to the course on LEARN.
  • Identify expectations for responding to student emails or discussion posts.

Once the course is in session:

  • Frequently update the instructor on your observations and experiences in the course and discuss any issues that come up.
  • When you get a marking scheme from the instructor, ask as many questions as you need for clarification; flag any assignments that you are unsure of.
  • You should be comfortable with all the concepts in the course; if you do not understand something, ask the instructor for clarification.
  • If you have concerns or difficulties with a student, let the instructor know immediately and refer the student to the instructor to discuss their problems.
  • If you are having difficulties with the course instructor, talk to the instructor first to try to come up with a solution.
    • If you are unable to resolve the problem, tell the instructor that you will ask the Associate Chair/Director of Graduate Studies in your Department/School to act as a mediator.
    • If you are not satisfied that an appropriate solution has been reached or the Associate Chair/Director is not an appropriate mediator (e.g. the Associate Chair/Director is the instructor) then bring the issue to the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies.

Questions that a TA should ask are outlined on the CTE website. Additional administrative duties that a TA may take on include:

  • Creating or distributing the course outline

  • Setting up the lecture hall for class and for presentations as necessary

  • Booking rooms

  • Confirming speakers

  • Copying handouts

  • Overseeing scantron exam marking and reviewing print-outs for errors (e.g., missing student IDs, double answer entry, poor quality erasing on response cards)

  • Entering marks into a spreadsheet

  • Calculating class averages

  • Posting marks for exams and assignments

Knowing the course content

Students in your class will ask you a lot of questions; if you do not know the answer, tell the student that you will get back to them once you find out the answer, either by looking it up or asking the course instructor.

Teaching labs, tutorials, and courses

If the course you are assisting with provides you with the opportunity to lead lectures, tutorials or labs, make sure that you are familiar with the course content in order to teach it and discuss any questions you have in advance with the course instructor.

Holding office hours and appointments

Regular office hours should be set during the day, at a different time than office hours of the course instructor, and when departmental facilities are accessible to undergraduate students. It may be necessary to hold extra office hours before an exam or project, or once exams or assignments are graded.

If appointments are made outside of your office hours, arrange them like business appointments; try to avoid endless "drop in" appointments outside of your regular office hours.

Try to avoid excessive communications by email. Posting frequently asked questions on the course discussion boards can help eliminate repetition. Changes to office hours and general announcements can be posted under announcements on Waterloo LEARN.

Academic integrity

UWaterloo policy requires instructors to report all academic integrity infractions to the appropriate Associate Dean (Graduate or Undergraduate Studies).

The Faculty of Health prefers to handle academic integrity cases through formal inquiry, to:

  1. ensure that cases are handled consistently, and
  2. maintain a record in case of repeat infractions within or outside of the Faculty.

However, instructors also have the option of handling cases informally.

The steps that should be taken if there is a suspected academic offence are outlined in the Faculty of Health instructor handbook.

Information, privacy and confidentiality

Resources on campus

Assignments, tests and final examinations

See the current Undergraduate Studies Academic Calendar for academic regulations related to assignments, tests, and final exams.

The final examination schedule and important information about final examinations can be found on the Registrar’s Office website. 

It is important that you plan your time and ensure that the marking scheme is clear prior to marking. Only discuss student concerns about grades in private. If you are re-grading exams, do so without the student present.

Working with LEARN

LEARN is the University's web-based learning management system, where instructors and TAs can manage course content, post assignments, create virtual dropboxes, manage grades and create discussion forums for students.

The Waterloo LEARN Help webpage is an excellent resource for anyone who is new to using the LEARN system. Tips for improving your LEARN site can be found on the CTE website.

LEARN training sessions are available through the CTE Liaison.

In the case that there is a service outage to the online content of four hours or more, instructors may follow the University’s protocol for service disruption in the online learning environment

Proctoring exams

You are expected to proctor the midterms and final examinations of your class. Responsibilities may include:

  • Distributing and collecting exam papers
  • Verifying students’ WatCards

  • Answering questions that students have during the exam

  • Watching for suspicious behaviour

  • Knowing how to deal with issues, such as responding to students’ questions and cheating

  • Proctoring a make-up exam 

Student accommodations

Students registered with AccessAbility Services may receive accommodations throughout the term for assignments, tests, and final examinations. It is important that TAs maintain students' privacy and do not ask for details about a student's disability or diagnosis. 

Students who have two final examinations scheduled on the same day, at the same time, may fill out the final examination timetable conflict form. Eligible reasons for accommodations during final examinations are outlined in the current Undergraduate Studies Academic Calendar.

University closures and emergency procedures

If there is a university closure during final examinations, rescheduled examinations will be held at the same time of day and in the same location as originally scheduled. The date chosen will be the next available day on which examinations have not been scheduled.

All individuals in charge of proctoring final examinations should be familiar with the fire alarm evacuation process. The evacuation procedures for final examinations are outlined on the Registrar’s Office website.

Updated December 2019