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Cornell University

TA Development

Teaching assistants, both undergraduate and graduate, are one of the most critical components in our teaching infrastructure. It’s important to get to know your TAs, meet with them regularly, set clear expectations, and offer them support in their development as teachers.

Engineering Learning Initiatives (ELI) runs a TA training program each semester and provides helpful materials for TA development. Their TA Checklist is an excellent document to review with your TAs each semester. If you have TAs who are struggling with aspects of their teaching, feel free to suggest they reach out to for support. ELI TA Development is also happy to observe, share strategies, and design customized short workshops for TA teams.

We’ve also compiled the following top-10 list of advice on how to develop your TAs’ talents, maximize their impact, and minimize the risk of negative student experiences.

  1. Emphasize that TAs are a critical part of the teaching team. Let TAs discuss their own experiences and identify the positive characteristics of an effective TA. Make an effort to understand your TAs’ background and teaching experience. Identify areas where you may need to provide them with additional support.
  2. Build connection with TAs. Use ice breakers in TA meetings, or provide other social opportunities to have them get to know one another better. Strengthen the relationship between you, them, and the course.
  3. Encourage TAs to voice any concerns they might have, and to act as a voice for students in the class. Students may be more likely to express issues to the TAs and not directly to you.
  4. Discuss homework and grading policies, especially consistency if there will be multiple graders. How can TAs find the most recent (corrected) assignments and solutions, and how are grading rubrics developed?
  5. Encourage TAs to answer questions professionally in class, office hours, and online. Answers should not be dismissive, judgmental, or condescending.
  6. Set expectations for discussions sections and labs if your TAs are to be present. TAs should normally work problems in advance of section and office hours. Discuss how TAs can reach out for help (e.g., to you or a head TA) if they cannot solve problems. Train TAs on the nature of the interactions you expect: how much problem solving versus content explanations, assisting students in solving problems versus showing solutions, etc.
  7. Emphasize the need for a common notation in the class, especially if you use something different from the textbook, or if there are multiple notations in use in the field. It is fair to require TAs to follow your lead. Student may ultimately need to deal with multiple notations, but it increases the cognitive load for students learning new material.
  8. Be explicit about the need to declare potential conflicts of interest (romantic or family relationships, power differentials in social or academic organizations, etc.) and about prohibitions on initiating or accepting dates from students in the class.
  9. Also be explicit about the need to be proactively inclusive and aware of implicit bias — not showing favoritism to certain groups, races, or genders of students.
  10. Remind TAs of grade confidentiality (e.g., no grades on front covers, no publishing of gradebooks).