Getting Hired as a TA
Part 1: Before Being Hired for Your First TA Position
Finding Work as a TA (Teaching Assistant)
To identify your own needs and qualifications for employment as a TA, you can reflect on your experience and expertise. Have you previously been employed as a TA? If so, what were your duties and what was the subject matter? Does your research make you particularly well-suited to certain kinds of positions? Have you completed degrees in other areas (e.g., an undergraduate degree different from your graduate degree)? Previous experience and research expertise are not the only factors determining who gets hired as a TA (see “The Hiring Process,” below), but they can help you identify positions that are more desirable and relevant to you.
First Contract and Subsequent Appointments
Many graduate programs at the University of Toronto include TAships as part of their funding packages. Your guaranteed number of appointments and hours will be outlined in a Letter of Offer that will detail the Funding Package you will receive upon admission to a program. These details vary, so consult your letter and/or your departmental administrator for more information.
Most programs offer a guaranteed first contract and five subsequent appointments (for a total of one appointment per year for six years), followed by a guaranteed 70-hour appointment every year until the end of your Ph.D. These appointments ensure both continuous access to CUPE’s health insurance plan, and the ability to apply for other Unit 1 positions, until the end of your studies.
Individual departments are responsible for informing TAs of their positions according to the following timeline:
- On or before July 31 for course(s) commencing in the Fall/Winter terms (September-April)
- On or before March 31 for all course(s) in the Summer term (May – August)
Departments regularly have teaching and grading requirements beyond what can be performed by their own graduate students. These positions are posted through the centralized CUPE 3902 Unit 1 Job Postings board (https://unit1.hrandequity.utoronto.ca), though departments may also post job announcements on bulletin boards in departmental offices, or through departmental websites and listservs. Ordinarily, positions must be posted for 15 working days before they are filled.
There are exceptions to the 15-day posting timeline. For example, “Emergency” postings are occasionally circulated when positions open up unexpectedly, and they often have a faster turnover. Check the site regularly to gain access to these, particularly at the beginning of a term, and towards exam periods. Other types of positions, such as Exam Invigilator positions and positions with the TATP, are posted on the Unit 1 Job Board as well.
Most TA positions at U of T are governed by the CUPE 3902 Unit 1 Collective Agreement. This includes TA positions at all three U of T campuses (St. George, Mississauga, and Scarborough). A new agreement has recently been signed, but as of April 2022, the specific language of some aspects of the agreement is still being negotiated. However, the previous Collective Agreement (CA), and the Memorandum of Agreement listing the changes made in the new CA are listed in the Agreements section of the University of Toronto’s website (people.utoronto.ca/agreements/)
Regardless of where your graduate department is located, you are eligible to work as a TA on any of the three campuses. You are also eligible to hold multiple simultaneous TAships. Note that some positions at U of T (such as those posted at Victoria College or at some of the University’s Writing Centres) are governed by slightly different collective agreements (i.e. Unit 2 and Unit 3 respectively). Unit 1 members are not able to apply for positions posted under the Unit 3 agreement for example, which includes many Course Instructor positions.
As per the Unit 1 Collective Agreement, job postings are required to include certain information. This information can help you assess the suitability and desirability of the position:
- The title and number of courses where positions are expected to be available
- An estimate of the number of positions available
- An estimate of the course enrolment
- Hours of work
- Dates of appointment, including class and tutorial/lab schedules if known
- For Course Instructor positions, an estimate of the TA support
- The application procedure including the closing date for applications
- A brief description of the duties
- If the position involves leading tutorials
- An announcement that the Department’s hiring policy is available in the Department office and at the CUPE, Local 3902 office
- An employment equity statement inviting all qualified applicants to submit an application
- A statement regarding accessibility during the application and hiring processes
As a member of CUPE 3902 Unit 1, you are eligible to apply for all Unit 1 postings; however, candidates will be selected according to the criteria below (see “The Hiring Process”).
Different departments follow different application and hiring procedures and require different materials from applicants. Some will require a cover letter and an academic CV; others will only require a department-specific application form. Information on how to apply will be listed in specific postings; postings will also include contact details if you would like to request more information.
You can apply to (and hold) multiple TAships within a single department or across multiple departments. Once you are offered a position, you have the right to decline it. When assigning positions to satisfy the terms of your funding package, many departments will ask you for a list of preferences based on the available TAships; there is no guarantee that you will receive your first choice, or that you will receive all of your guaranteed hours from a single TAship. If you decline the position offered to you as part of your funding agreement, that offer will still count against the total number of positions your home department is required to offer you as part of your funding agreement. However, your home department is still obligated to offer you a 70-hour position every year for as long you as you are a graduate student.
The Hiring Process
Once a posting closes, the department begins the hiring process. Priority is given to candidates entitled to subsequent appointments (i.e., applicants who are still guaranteed TA contracts as per the terms of their Letter of Offer). Next, the remaining positions (if any) are assigned. These remaining positions are often re-advertised closer to the course start date after the initial round of hiring.
During the hiring process, candidates can be assessed according to the following criteria, to varying degrees depending on the position and the department:
- Academic qualifications
- Demonstrable suitability for the position (i.e. coincidence with TAs research, experience in the department or in similar courses)
- The University’s need to support excellent students in pursuing graduate studies
- Enrolment in a recognized area of study within the hiring department/centre/institute
- Financial need
- The need to acquire teaching experience (this will be a posted goal of the position)
- Previous experience in the course/position (this will be a posted goal of the position)
- Union seniority
- For candidates who have held previous TAships, previous satisfactory employment under the collective agreement
When deciding between relatively equal candidates, the hiring department must hire the candidate with greater competence. However, this stipulation cannot be used to deny employment to a graduate student who has not already been a TA at the University.
Specific hiring policies (including application procedures) vary by department, so it is best to consult with the department in which you would like to TA for more specific information on the process. Many departments have a dedicated TA Coordinator, to whom you can direct specific inquiries about TA opportunities and hiring procedures.
Applicants for regularly posted positions should receive written notification:
- On or before August 7 for course(s) commencing in September
- On or before December 7 for course(s) commencing in January
- On or before April 22 for course(s) in the Summer term
Part 2: After Being Hired for Your First TA Position
Regardless of where you work at the University of Toronto (i.e., St. George, University of Toronto Scarborough, or University of Toronto Mississauga), you are entitled to 4 hours of paid training with your first TAship. Your department may develop and deliver all 4 hours of this paid first appointment training, or they may refer you to the Teaching Assistants’ Training Program (TATP) for some or all of this training.
After your first contract, you are also entitled to 2 hours of paid work-related training per subsequent academic year in which you hold at least one TA appointment. Training in the following subject areas is considered work-related training for all appointments, and so does not require department approval:
- Pedagogy and inclusive pedagogy
- Anti-oppression and anti-racism
- Cultural competency
- Accommodations and crisis referrals
In addition, the following training is considered work-related for work required to be performed remotely:
- Online technology
- Online course design and management
The TATP works with partners across the university to provide training options in all of these areas and runs sessions throughout the academic year. To learn more about the TATP session offerings, please visit: https://tatp.utoronto.ca/job-training/
Description of Duties and Allocation of Hours
At the beginning of every TAship you will receive a preliminary version of a form called a “DDAH” (Description of Duties and Allocation of Hours) with your contract or shortly afterwards, in which your hours will be allocated by your Course Instructor. Examples of duties that might be assigned to you in your DDAH form include, but are not limited to:
- Attending class
- Preparing for tutorials
- Preparing course materials
- Designing and/or maintaining Quercus shells or other online resources
- Teaching classes, leading tutorials, and/or supervising laboratories
- Holding office hours
- Grading assignments (e.g., tests, exams, problem sets, essays or other written papers)
- Class or laboratory set-up
The time spent on each area, particularly around grading, should be clearly calculated using the formulae built into the form itself. You have the right to review the DDAH form prior to accepting a job, and to bring up concerns about your hours with your CI. The DDAH form and the hours allocations described there must also be reviewed at a mandatory mid-term DDAH meeting. At this meeting, you will be able to discuss whether the hours allocated to particular tasks have been, or will be, sufficient for those tasks, and any other concerns you may have.
It is important to protect yourself against overwork. To prevent overworking, you should keep a log of the hours that you work and the duties you perform. This log can then be compared to the duties and hours listed in your DDAH. If you feel you will not be able to perform the duties in your DDAH within your contracted hours, you should file a Workload Review Form with your supervisor; this should be done before you run out of paid hours. Your CI cannot ask you to create such a document or demand an hours accounting from you, these records are for your own use, and to act as proof that you require more time for particular tasks.
The Right to a Safe Workplace and Requesting an Accommodation
All TAs have the right to a safe, accessible, and harassment-free workplace. You have the right to refuse work tasks you feel are unsafe without fear of consequence. TAs may also request accommodation at any time. This request must be supported by medical documentation. If your accommodation is new and you are not already registered with Accessibility Services, you can contact Human Resources directly. If you are already registered with Accessibility Services, your Accessibility Services Counsellor can help you get in contact with Human Resources.
Part 3: TA Contracts Beyond Your First Year
After your first year(s), and particularly as you complete your course work and (potentially) have more control over your schedule, you may consider taking on additional TAships to the one(s) assigned by your home department. This could be to expand your teaching experience in your discipline, to gain experience teaching in another department, or for financial reasons. Whatever the reason, additional TAships can be valuable opportunities.
At the same time, additional positions will mean increased work commitments at times that may not be convenient to you. Departments and Course Instructors outside your department may feel less obligation to respond to the demands of your schedule. Therefore, scheduling expectations must be discussed at the initial DDAH meeting and must be re-examined and confirmed at the mid-term DDAH meeting.
Here are a few things to consider when applying for additional Teaching Assistantships:
Time: There are only so many hours in a week, and this is particularly true at certain times during the school year (mid-term and final exams, final papers etc). When applying for a position, when considering an offer, and when discussing the hours allocated in a DDAH form, consider your cumulative schedule at those times of the year, as well as your pre-existing obligations to your home TAship, your studies, and to the rest of your life.
Schedule: Unit 1 Job postings will indicate expected tasks, which can give a general sense of the nature of the Assistantship. For example, a TAship with a tutorial component will require weekly hours spent in preparation and in-class, while a grading TAship will required concentrated time around assignment submission dates or exam periods.
Finances: The minimum hourly rate is now over $47 and will be increasing over the next two years. You will be paid for a guaranteed number of hours on a specific, monthly schedule for the duration of these contracts. As such, additional TAships can be a significant financial benefit. In general, these positions can also be more easily integrated into a graduate student’s schedule than a part-time job in another industry.
At the same time, Teaching Assistantships are always short-term positions with total hours ranging from as little as 20 hours to a few hundred and will last at the most two terms (eight months). As such these positions must be re-applied for regularly, and though experience in a course offers some greater access, there is little guarantee that courses will continue from year to year, and that the same number of positions will be available.
CV & Teaching Portfolio: Every additional position taken can be added to your CV, and the duties undertaken, and materials used can be noted in your Teaching Portfolio. In this way, additional TAships can demonstrate your specialization in teaching particular subjects, or the diversity of your teaching experience.
Leaving a position: If you receive a better opportunity, or you find that a TAship is not working for you, you have the right to resign your position. No notice is contractually required, though your CI or department may appreciate some time to fill the position, and no punitive action can be taken against you for leaving a position. Your hours paid will be prorated to match what you have worked, and you have no obligation to engage with any of your class duties once the contract has been resigned.
Other Things to be Aware of
Pay Statements: monthly paystubs are available at the Employee Self-Service page of the University of Toronto’s website (easi.its.utoronto.ca/administrative-management-systems/employee-self-service-ess/) on or around the 28th of each month (which is Pay Day, unless the 28th takes place on a holiday or weekend). Log in using your UTORid. This will also be the source for your annual T4 tax form for your work as a Teaching Assistant, which will be available in early March of the following year.
Using these documents, you will be able to verify that you are being paid for the correct number of hours and you will be able to see what deductions have been made. Unfortunately, U of T paystubs do not differentiate between departments or sources, and they only state the total number of hours paid. This means that if your hours paid do not match your expectations, you may not be able to tell immediately which department has made an error. Department business managers should be able to confirm your hours payout and schedule on request.
Divide the total number of hours in a contract by the duration of the contract in months to learn how many hours you should expect to be paid per month, per contract/Taship. By adding these monthly totals together, you can come to the number of hours you can expect to be paid for each month. Note that depending on the timing of the contract offer and submission to administration, the number of payment periods in a contract may be adjusted. The department should make you aware of when the payment schedule will be different from what is outlined in your contract.
Graduate students are still considered members of Unit 1 until they attend their convocation ceremony in either June or November. This means that you can continue to apply for TAships or other Unit 1 positions from the time that you defend/complete your degree requirements, until the day you graduate, if you sign the contract before the date of convocation itself. This means you cannot apply for positions with an application closing date after your graduation day. Keep in mind that considerations for a position will not begin until after the closing date, so effectively you will not be able to apply for positions with closing dates within a few weeks of your convocation. Check with the posting department to confirm the timeline for hiring.
CUPE 3902, Unit 1: www.cupe3902.org/unit-1/
University of Toronto Agreements: people.utoronto.ca/agreements/
Teaching Assistants’ Training Program, Becoming a TA at the University of Toronto: tatp.utoronto.ca/ask-a-ta/becoming-a-ta-at-u-of-t/
Teaching Assistants’ Training Program, TA and CI Job Training: tatp.utoronto.ca/job-training/
University of Toronto Employee Self Service: easi.its.utoronto.ca/administrative-management-systems/employee-self-service-ess/
Created by TATP Graduate Educational Developers David DeGrow, Erin Miller, and Karl Manis © 2022