Teaching Assistant (TA) Frequently Asked Questions

Pre-class issues
 

  1. It is my first time TAing this course. I don’t know the content very well and I don’t have time to learn it. How should I go about teaching?
     
  2. As a full-time TA (50% TAship) you cannot work more than 20 hours per week, per union policy. To use this time appropriately, communicate with the instructor and your PI and share your concerns. Ask the instructor for resources such as solutions, presentations, and/or previous exams to make it easier for you to do your responsibilities and help students in the learning process. Previous TAs also can be a valuable resource for you. Techniques such as making a lesson plan and PowerPoint slides and/or handouts can also prepare you for each session. And remember, do not be afraid of saying “I don’t know, I will check the answer and get back to you later” when you don’t know the answer to a student’s question. Students have reported that the TAs who say they don’t know the answer to a question are more professional.
     
  3. How should I prepare for the class?
     
  4. Ask the instructor what his/her expectations are. Determine the objectives of each session and create a lesson plan and the content of each class based on those objectives. Getting the syllabus ahead of time helps with planning as well.
     
  5. English is not my first language, and I do not feel confident teaching in English. How can I teach with confidence?
     
  6. You cannot be a TA if you do not meet English speaking requirements. If you are a TA, you have proven your ability to teach in English. Preparing a lesson plan and clear PowerPoint slides and/or handouts can help you to run the class smoothly. Moreover, consider using active learning in your class (more information can be provided by the Pedagogical Fellow). Active learning makes the students more engaged in the learning process and the TA will serve more as a facilitator and will not need to speak as much since the students will be doing the speaking. “Think-pair-shares” and “minute papers” are easily implemented strategies that can be practiced with the Pedagogical Fellow. It may also help to practice parts of your lesson plan with a friend.
     
  7. It is my first time TAing. How can I teach with confidence?
     
  8. Congratulations! This will be a fruitful experience for you. Communicate with the instructor and ask for their expectations. Experienced TAs are also good resources for you. You can always contact your Pedagogical Fellow (PF) and ask for help. Additionally, numerous workshops are offered through Grad Division and the Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation (DTEI) that may help you. You can also meet with someone at the DTEI to discuss teaching-related issues. There is also the Activate to Captivate (https://grad.uci.edu/professional-success/communications-and-cultural-fl...) program where you can get expert guidance with public speaking. Whatever your concerns are, there are campus resources to help!
     
  9. How can I use the technology in the classroom?
     
  10. You can learn about the hardware and software that are available for you in each classroom here. You can always contact Smart Classroom Support by emailing smartclassrooms@uci.edu, or calling (949) 824-2989.


In-class issues
 

  1. How can I be sensitive and inclusive of the diverse cultures of my students?
     
    1. Use inclusive language and examples.
    2. Avoid stereotypes.
    3. Create a safe environment via a class contract and/or clear guidelines.
       
  2. What should I do on the first day of class?
     
    1. Introductions
    2. Group activities as icebreakers
    3. Go over the syllabus.
    4. Communicate expectations for both yourself and the students.
       
  3. How should I deal with a misbehaving student?
     
    1. Set clear guidelines with the class in the first session and in the syllabus.
    2. Be aware of diversity and how that might play a role in behavior.
    3. Remind the students that the classroom should be a safe environment for everyone and inappropriate behaviors will not be tolerated.
    4. Tell the student that if he/she has concerns then he/she can set an appointment with the instructor to discuss it.
    5. Share the incident with the instructor.
       
  4. Students are not engaged during discussion section - what can I do?
     
    1. Inform the students of the benefits of engaging with the material.
    2. Use active learning techniques such as think-pair-share, minute paper, etc.
    3. Prepare some questions to pose in the class that requires discussion.
    4. Make sure they can follow the lesson.
    5. If you are doing an activity, make sure everyone understands the instructions.
    6. Create opportunities for them to ask questions.
    7. Use energizers with your students. You can find some examples here.
       
  5. What should I do when I don’t know the answer to a question?
     
    1. This is the best opportunity to create an in-class group discussion to engage the students. Have the students identify the answer.
    2. Ask the student to post the question on the discussion board and have other students offer solutions.
    3. Say you don’t know but will find out and share the answer with them. Alternatively, turn it into an assignment and have the students research the answer and share them at the next class meeting.
       
  6. How can I manage my time in class?
     
    1. Use a timer.
    2. Write out your objectives and a lesson plan with a breakdown of how much time you want to spend on each topic/activity.
    3. Leave some “buffer time” in case you need more time to go into more detail or for the students to complete activities.
    4. You can use some of the strategies that are introduced and explained here.
       
  7. How should I conduct a lab?
     
    1. Talk to the instructor to know the expectations.
    2. Make sure that you have the resources you need for the experiments, including safety information.
    3. Do the experiments yourself before the class.
    4. Encourage group work.
    5. Assign roles to the members of each group.
    6. Groups with 2 or 3 members are oftentimes the most effective groups
    7. Many times, students need to wait for a procedure in the lab. To avoid losing this time, prepare related questions/activities for the students to work on during these waiting times.
    8. Explain the objectives of the experiments in the beginning of the class.
    9. Take a quiz at the beginning and/or end of each experiment to increase accountability.


Office hours & emails
 

  1. How can I help the students who are struggling in my course and are in distress?
     
    1. Refer to on-campus resources.
    2. Empathize with them, but remember you are not a counselor.
    3. Address the student’s concern and have the student come up with an action plan.
       
  2. A student keeps asking for more points on a problem. How can I respond to these requests?
     
    1. Share the rubric with the student.
    2. Refer to the professor.
       
  3. A student asks personal questions or shares personal stories and I am not feeling comfortable. What should I do?
     
  4. Do not assume anything and be aware of diversity and how that might play a role in interactions with the student. Remind the student about the guidelines you set in the first session, and professional behavior, then redirect back to topic.
     
  5. What is the professional way to interact with students?
     
  6. Dress professionally and act professionally. Each person has his/her own style and you can define your boundaries. You always can ask the instructor or your PI for advice. PFs are also resources that you can use.
     

Grading
 

  1. What are some tips for grading?
     
    1. Use a rubric whenever possible.
    2. After grading a few papers, revisit your rubric and modify it if needed.
    3. If there is more than one TA for the course, each TA should grade a specific set of questions to make sure grading is consistent.
    4. Explain the grading and rubric before the students begin the assignment.
    5. Make sure you are in the right environment and mindset for grading, especially if it is a long assignment.
       
  2. What should I do if I observe academic dishonesty (cheating)?
     
    1. Prevent cheating by assigning seat numbers, using different versions of exam (reorder the questions, change numbers or choices, etc.).
    2. Immediately attend to any suspicious conduct by the students. You can move the students to other seats in the room.
    3. Gather evidence and submit to professor.
    4. Have your students submit written assignments to a plagiarism service like Turnitin.com.


Outside-of-class issues
 

  1. I am spending more time grading and preparing than the other TAs.
     
  2. Usually the instructor meets the TAs in the beginning of the quarter to set expectations and talk about TAs roles and responsibilities. You can talk about job division with other TAs. Communicate with the TAs and share your concerns.
     
  3. My PI is expecting me to work the same amount as though I am not TAing. What can I do?
     
  4. Talk to your adviser in the beginning of the quarter and discuss your situation and set expectations. Remind your adviser about your role as a TA and that you might need to spend 20 hours on TAing per week. You also can use time management techniques to handle your responsibilities.
     
  5. I do not know how to work with Canvas/EEE. Where can I look for help?
     
    1. You can contact EEE team at eee@uci.edu and ask for help.
    2. You can learn about Canvas and EEE and how they work here and here.
    3. If you are a new TA who went through TAPDP, your Demo 101 course should still be open on Canvas, at least through the quarter.
       
  6. How do iClickers work?
     
  7. You can find information about iClickers and how you can use them in class here.
     
  8. What are the common mistakes that TAs make during first quarter teaching?
     
    1. Overestimating or underestimating the content they can cover in class
    2. Thinking they should know everything
    3. Talking too fast, or too soft
    4. Not preparing lesson plans
    5. Not using rubrics
       
  9. If you are concerned about these common mistakes, feel free to reach out to the DTEI for strategies to overcome these mistakes. They also offer free services such as filming of your classes and consultations to help you develop as an instructor.
     
  10. What are discussion sessions supposed to be like?
     
  11. It is in the name – “DISCUSSION section”: mostly student-to-student and instructor-to-student interaction. You should not be lecturing in discussion sections!

    In engineering, the tradition is that the TA stands in front of the board or slides and solves problems and examples for the students. However, we encourage TAs to use active learning more often. To learn more about active learning and see how you can implement them, you can contact your PF or DTEI.
     
  12. What are the responsibilities of TAs?
     
  13. TAs can have a broad range of responsibilities. You must discuss about your roles with the instructor before the quarter begins. Some of the responsibilities may include:
     
    1. Grading
    2. Holding discussion sessions
    3. Holding office hours
    4. Making quizzes
    5. Managing course website on Canvas/EEE
    6. Answering students’ questions in the discussion board
    7. Ordering resources for the experiments
       
  14. What is the usual time commitment for being a TA, and what I can do to prepare myself in advance for the position?
     
    1. Based on your contract you cannot work more than 20 hours per week (on average) as a TA (for a 50% appointment).
    2. Read over the syllabus in advance and talk to the instructor.
    3. Talk to the previous or experienced TAs.
       
  15. A student has financial problems and cannot get the resources needed for the course, how can I help the student?
     
    1. Put materials online.
    2. Refer the student to campus resources (financial aid office, etc.).
    3. Refer the student to the professor for possible accommodations.
    4. If possible, use Open Educational Resources (OpenStax, etc.).
       
  16. Are there any trainings or fellowships available for teaching?
     
    1. Yes! You can always attend DTEI workshops or take University Studies 390X, which is offered every quarter.
    2. If you take 390X, you can apply for Pedagogical Fellows Program.

Pedagogical Fellows

Ali Morshedifard

Ali Morshedifard, CE PhD Candidate

morsheda@uci.edu

Rachel Smith

Rachel Smith, BME PhD Candidate

racheljs@uci.edu