Course Instructor–Teaching Assistant Relationship
Developing and Managing an Effective Teaching Team
Whether this is your first time leading a course with one or more teaching assistants or you would like to revisit your process, this section offers considerations and resources for U of T instructors building a teaching team.
Building Your Teaching Team
You should start by asking yourself, “What are the potential considerations in your relationship with your course TAs?” Rate the following considerations from 1 (most significant) to 6 (least significant):
- Consistent grading – What is the quality and quantity of feedback to be provided to students? How much time should it take to mark certain assignments? Do I need to prepare a benchmarking session?
- Allocation of hours to duties/responsibilities – How do I navigate the collective agreement? What if the number of hours assigned is going to come up “short” given the course size and types of assignments? How do I review the DDAH form or conduct a mid-term review?
- Course policies – What are the relevant, key departmental, divisional and institutional policies and procedures that TAs must follow? How do I make sure that TAs are adhering to my course policies? What can I do when TAs violate critical course policies?
- Expectations – How can I establish clear expectations regarding my TAs preparedness, content competence, overall professionalism, conduct (in and outside of the class)? How do I communicate my obligations to the TAs? How do I discus limitations of the TA role in my course?
- High quality of teaching – What kinds of teaching approaches should/will my TAs be using in the tutorials/labs? What kinds of learning activities will they be expected to lead with students? To what extent should I “monitor” their teaching?
- Communication – How do I maintain open channels of communication with my TAs? How much direction, guidance and mentorship should I provide? How often should I check in with them and they with me?
The CUPE 3902 (Unit 1) collective agreement stipulates that you arrange a pre-course meeting with your TAs before their teaching appointment to discuss all your TAs’ contracted duties. In this meeting, you should review the Description of Duties and Allocation of Hours (DDAH) Form for each of your TAs. Many of the considerations listed within this section have implications for the DDAH.
To help you prepare, you should review:
- Considerations and questions for your pre-course meeting
- Seven key areas of TA development when building a teaching team
Please keep in mind that questions regarding the CUPE 3902 Unit 1 (or Unit 3) collective agreement should be directed to the Designated Authority in your department or to Labour Relations.
Preparing Your TAs for Tutorial
Once you have developed the course policies for your teaching team, you can then explore all the options for the content, structure, teaching strategies, activities, and formative assessments for the tutorials in your course. The first step in this process is to develop effective learning outcomes which will give your course tutorials direction and scope. Use the Developing Tutorial Learning Outcomes (PDF) resource to help identify what you want your students to know and what they should be able to do by the end of the course. Consult Active Verbs for Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy for a list of active verbs and examples of effective learning outcomes. You can also complete CTSI’s online module Developing Course and Tutorial Learning Outcomes.
The next step is to determine how and when the learning outcomes will be assessed in the tutorial, what methods your TAs will use to measure students’ mastery of the content, and some strategies that your TAs can use while marking. You can use the Overall Tutorial Planner (PDF) to brainstorm these ideas. Once you have an outline of these considerations, share these with your TAs. To help your TAs plan for each individual tutorial, you could distribute the Specific Tutorial Planner (PDF). If you want to provide additional guidance to or maintain consistency in content and teaching in your teaching team, you could fill out this planner with suggestions and distribute it to all your TAs each week.
How Can You Enhance the Teaching Competencies of Your TAs?
An important strategy that can enhance the overall effectiveness of your teaching team is to encourage the professional development of your TAs. The professional development of your TAs not only can ensure the success of your students’ learning experience, but can also build a sense of community and community of practice within your teaching team. The University of Toronto offers many resources, services and opportunities for the acquisition and honing of teaching skills.
First, you can promote the programming and services of the Teaching Assistants’ Training Program (TATP). The TATP offers two certificate programs (the Teaching Fundamentals Certificate and the Advanced University Teaching Preparation Certificate); Brown-Bag Lunch Series on teaching strategies; in-class observation and microteaching sessions; individual confidential consultations; numerous resources in the Teaching Toolkit; and an array of workshops that focus on various aspects of teaching. TATP seeks to prepare graduate students and teaching assistants for the realities and demands of teaching by providing a peer-based support network. Pedagogical training is an essential step in the professional development of graduate students in a variety of careers paths whether that be academe or other professional options. Review the TATP Events Calendar to flag valuable workshops and seminars for your TAs.
Second, you can offer to provide feedback to your TAs on their teaching. An in-class observation could provide your TAs with a perspective on their teaching. It is also one of the most effective ways of giving direct feedback on their teaching in order to improve their teaching performance in the classroom. You could provide comments on (although this is not an exhausted listed): their organizational skills and the clarity of their lesson; their oral presentation skills; their rapport with students; their use of teaching aids; the overall impact of their teaching performance. The assessment form can become a part of their Teaching Dossier and will be of great benefit when they are applying for teaching positions. This process also allows you to have a detailed conversation with your TAs about their teaching strengths and areas that might need improvement in a supportive environment.
It is important that you conduct in-class observation in a positive and supportive manner. Teaching observation could begin with a self-reflection. Examining Weimer et al.’s “How do I teach?” highlights fourteen instructional behaviours on how people teach. This is an incredibly illuminating process as many physical attributes in teaching are completely unconscious. It is a quick way for you and your TAs to reflect on teaching. There are also different inventories which can give TAs a sense of the kind of patterns that are observable in their teaching. Harry Murray’s Teaching Behaviours Inventory (TBI) (included in CTSI’s Additional Characteristics of Good Teaching) and Keith Trigwell and Michael Prosser’s Approaches to Teaching Inventory (ATI) provide effective examples of validated attributes.
Before coming into the tutorial to observe your TAs, make sure to have a conversation about their plan to teach, context for the tutorial, and their concerns. Couch your comments as formative (rather than summative) feedback. The aim is to identify strengths and areas for enhancement, and to provide motivation to improve. To avoid judging your TA’s performance, make your feedback descriptive (e.g., “I noticed…”; “I felt…”; etc.) and not prescriptive (e.g., “You should have done this…”; “Don’t ever do that…”; etc.). You can consult the resource on “I” Statement Based Feedback when formulating observations for your TAs. You could also review the Peer Observation of Teaching Guide, in particular, Part III: Tools and Instruments for Observation.