View Full Version : I'm a TA now and have no idea about teaching...

Sep 21st, 2004, 10:00 PM
Hi everybody!

I'm a PhD student at one fo the US universities. Today I found out that I have to be a TA this fall. It's quite a surprise for me... I don't know anything about teaching US undergrades...Could you give me some hints or ideas that would help me to become a good TA? What American undegrades like and don't like about TA?

Thank you...

Cam'ron Giles
Sep 21st, 2004, 10:04 PM
Did you say you're a T&A type of chick now? :scratch:


Well, just give them lots of cheat sheets during exams and they will love you...:kiss:

Helen Lawson
Sep 21st, 2004, 10:10 PM
Well, I never had any school after I graduated from Erasmus High School in Brooklyn, but I had to work on a lot of vipers' nest movie sets with backstabbing bitches, prima donnas, and you name it. Just act tough and never let them see you sweat or show any weakness. Let them know early on that you're the boss and if they don't like it, you can fail them, so they better do whatever you want, not steal your scenes, and give you the good lightings and angles. It won't hurt to lead them to believe you're screwing the professor, either. Show up in a couple of Adrian gowns, and the semester will go just fine.

Sep 21st, 2004, 10:22 PM
Good advise from Helen. The most important thing is not to appear to know less than the students. Before you go to your TA class, make sure you review all the materials you are supposed to cover, work out all the problems the prof assigns for you to solve in class and check the solutions ahead of time. I supervised a frosh class for intro to computer programming for a semester and the good thing is most of the students didn't know much about programming so I could get away with it pretty easily but still I made sure I read the assignment they were given to complete in that session. Be nice to them too, don't take marks away for stupid reason.

Sep 21st, 2004, 10:25 PM
none of my TAs are american, make sure you speak clearly, i dont kno if you have an accent or not... what else just be all you can be :shrug:

Venus Forever
Sep 21st, 2004, 10:39 PM
none of my TAs are american, make sure you speak clearly, i dont kno if you have an accent or not... what else just be all you can be :shrug:
That's exactly what I was going to say.

Many of my TA's were foreigners, and they could NOT speak English whatsoever (or they could, I just didn't understand a word they say.)

Speak ENGLISH, and speak it CLEARLY.

God help you if you have a very heavy foreign accent, because they will lose respect for you right off the bat.

Sep 21st, 2004, 11:02 PM
I've been a TA in a geology lab a few semesters. About a week before school started we had an orientation session that we had to go to where they gave instructions on what to do like don't use a red pen to grade since it's demoralizing :lol: . It was a waste of time. Are you teaching a lab or just helping with the lecture or both? Some of my friends were TAs in english and psychology classes where they just went to the lecture and sat there like any other student and just led the study groups/review sessions and graded papers. It depends on the professor you're working with. I think the biggest thing is just to be accessible to your students and have flexible office hours and times when they can ask you questions. Also you have to know your material or else they'll think you're incompetent and not show you any respect. If you really don't know then fake it :lol: Oh yeah.... be nice. Most people there aren't taking the class with career aspirations in the field.

Sep 21st, 2004, 11:17 PM
I think that I'm supposed to give review sessions, grade exams and homework, and hold office hours.

I've been to the US only for 9 months...so..my English is far from perfect and accent is strong...

Sep 21st, 2004, 11:41 PM
Don't worry about the accent as long as you speak clearly. Some will actually tell you they love your accent.

Just know how all the solutions were obtained to the homework/exercises questions.
If you don't know the answer to an impromptu question, tell them you'll check and get back to them - and please do check.
Don't lose confidence, even when not very sure. Remember, you know much more than they do (and I'm not talking specifically about this class).
Smile, be nice and accessible to them.

You'll do just fine.

Venus Forever
Sep 21st, 2004, 11:49 PM
I think that I'm supposed to give review sessions, grade exams and homework, and hold office hours.

I've been to the US only for 9 months...so..my English is far from perfect and accent is strong...
SPEAK CLEARLY and u'll be fine.

Sep 22nd, 2004, 12:12 AM
Thank you so much for your advice!!!!!!!!

Venus Forever
Sep 22nd, 2004, 12:44 AM
Thank you so much for your advice!!!!!!!!
Just remember to speak clearly, and make sure you don't go too fast and they can all hear you.

God, I once went up to my Chem Lab TA, who was Asian, and asked her a question. She said something, and I have no idea what, and she asked me if I understood. I, of course, said no because I literally didn't know what she said.

What does she do??

She rolls her eyes and walks away from me.

Stupid bitch. :mad:

Sep 22nd, 2004, 10:56 AM
At the start you will be nervous BUT believe me it wears off, by the 4th week you'll be really bored and you'll think its an inconvenience. My advice is get to know your students, their names etc. and take a slight interest they response better

Sep 22nd, 2004, 11:55 AM
I've been to the US only for 9 months...so..my English is far from perfect and accent is strong...
then just remember to speak cleary AND slowly and be willing to repeat if necessary. Also it might help if you post your lecture notes for the reviews or give copies to those people who come to the review so they can follow along :)

Good luck! Hopefully your students will be better then the ones i TA'ed for :lol: they never shut up, lol :rolleyes:

~ The Leopard ~
Sep 22nd, 2004, 12:23 PM
Just don't be toooo nice, which has been my mistake when I've done some undergraduate teaching. The little bastards will still show you a degree of respect if you obviously know your stuff, but they'll also take advantage of any opportunity to be slack. :rolleyes:

My resolution is to be a little meaner next time I find myself with an invitation to do some undergraduate teaching ... but it's difficult, of course. Undergrads tend to be quite sweet, unlike high school kids, so it's all too tempting to become too "understanding" about giving extensions on assignments, etc.

Then again, I hear they're not as nice in the US as here in the... ahem...Congo. ;) So maybe you'll find it easy to be strict. :hehehe:

Sep 22nd, 2004, 03:53 PM
I guess it depends on what you are actually doing?

For grading and consulting hours you don't really need to do much. Most of the stuff undergrads are doing should be really easy for you, just make sure you know how the lecturer is solving the problems, you don't want to try and teach them any "smart" methods to get the answers, because you will just confuse them. This might imply you will need to study a bit, but hopefully not much.

If you are actually doing some teaching or tutoring, then, you need to be friendly (you are not the lecturer, he/she is the evil guy, you are there to help them with the subject), but also strict, so that they respect you. Learn their names, ask them questions (particularly chinese people seem to need a lot of encouragement to participate)... don't single out people, but also don't let them just sit passively. These guys are over 18 and taking your class because they want to, and are supposedly at least a bit interested, so make them work!

Enjoy! ;)

Sep 22nd, 2004, 05:19 PM
For review sessions you should make sure you know what the lecturer has been teaching them. Even if you know a subject well, the different things people find to teach around the subject can be surprising and it's easy to be caught out and look like you don't know anything simply because you don't know about some random example the lecturer has made up.

For marking, it really depends what the subject is, but find out what the lecturer expects to see in a good exam or good piece of homework, as that can vary from lecturer to lecturer. Also, find out what the rules are for incomplete/late/over-long pieces of work, etc. If you can, sometimes the easiest thing if people approach you for extensions is to tell them to ask the lecturer. It's surprising the number of people who will manage to complete the work on time after all if the alternative is going to ask the scary lecturer for an extension. ;)

As other people have said, it's a good idea to learn their names. Partly this makes you seem nice and caring, but it also freaks people out if they think that not only are you going to notice if they don't participate or if they cause trouble but you are also going to know and remember exactly who they are. ;)

If you are worried about your English, give out copies of your lecture/review notes and slides. Speak as slowly and clearly as you can and don't panic. If you think there really is going to be a problem then sometimes the easiest thing is to be quite upfront about it and say "I know my English isn't the best, so if you don't understand something, please stop me and ask, I won't be offended". Although that can seem like an open invitation for them to continually disrupt your teaching, in most cases people will respect that you are trying to overcome the issue and it is better than them bitching and complaining about you and your teaching to other people in your department.

Most of all, try to relax and at least look like you are enjoying it. ;)

~ The Leopard ~
Sep 23rd, 2004, 09:11 AM
yeah, whatever Joui- you know its the blonde chicks that batted their eyeslashes and told you the dog ate the homework that you were way tooo nice to and gave them an A for being ahem, blonde:D

Yeah, if you ever do any undergrad teaching you become amazed at how many homework-eating dogs there are in the world.

But why do you think it's just the blonde chicks who own such dogs? In my limited experience, the darker chicks seem to own them as well, as do the guys. Those fucking dogs are everywhere, eating and eating their owners' homework. They're insatiable! :eek:

Anyway, Joy, you know I like a bit of coffee with my cream. ;) :D

Sep 23rd, 2004, 03:03 PM
I have only been given classes for a year, but I think that it's important that the students know that you can very mean. So try to be hyper-nice with them, learn their names, encourage them to ask questions, change the office hours for them...whatever, but as soon as they do something you really don't like (such as speaking too loudly, arriving late, not paying attention...well, it depends on what you don't like) let them see that you don't like it and that you are not afraid of taking any measure against it.

If you succeed in doing that, everything will be OK. It will encourage them to behave well, specially when they see that if they do you're hyper-nice again. And it will make them respect you.

Sep 23rd, 2004, 04:03 PM
Hey geewhiz and all the TAs/Lecturers in here! :wavey:

Aren't we all a bunch of over-studied, under-paid geeks? :lol:

Sep 23rd, 2004, 04:37 PM
Verba, I'm sure you will be fine. Everyone is nervous at first, but always be confident that you ARE indeed qualified to be teaching! It's easy to concentrate on your own weaknesses and forget that you know A LOT. :)

I have been a TA for fairly small (5-10 person) music theory sections. I'm sure large class meetings present different problems, but I have found the following to be true in small meetings: While it's OK to "lecture," it's good to conduct the class as though you are really talking to the students and want them to understand. Maintain a positive energy level, make eye contact and pause every now and then to make sure the class is still following you. Ask them if they understand or have any questions, and maybe give them a little exercise to test their comprehension. It's harder for the students to daydream if you are actively engaging them, and they usually seem to appreciate your effort.

As for being mean vs. being nice --- well that varies from teacher to teacher. I tend to take the nice approach, but I also make it clear that I mean business. I try to make that evident from the way I teach the course. I respect the students, and usually that is reciprocated. If they know you are both serious and enthusiastic about your work, they will take you more seriously themselves. I find that when I've really been putting effort in, I haven't had to deal with too many students taking advantage of me.

Of course, if a student is out of line (late, inattentive, or otherwise delinquent), then Gandalf is right: you have to put your foot down and tell them how things are going to work in the class. I usually do so in a calm yet coldly intense way, lol. I wouldn't recommend yelling -- it just weirds the students out in my opinion.
good luck! enjoy it. :)

~ The Leopard ~
Sep 23rd, 2004, 09:24 PM
Hey geewhiz and all the TAs/Lecturers in here! :wavey:

Aren't we all a bunch of over-studied, under-paid geeks? :lol:And it just struck me how everyone on this thread has written in meticulously grammatical, properly-punctuated sentences. In each case, these are grouped into structured paragraphs that develop a clear line of argument. That's something you seldom see on this board.

If these posts were mini-essays, we'd all get high marks. What nerds we are! :bounce: