Guidance for Faculty with TAs

Guidance for Faculty with TAs

During times of disruption, instructors are supporting student learning through virtual platforms. If you have Teaching Assistants (TAs)–graduate and/or undergraduate–their responsibilities, expectations, and/or tasks may have changed, and you may be wondering how you can best support your TAs in this new context. Here are a few things to keep in mind*:

Check in with your TAs.

Your TAs are human beings first, students second, and TAs third. They are likely struggling with the transition and uncertainty as much as you and your students are. Graduate TAs may be uncertain about their research progress, and undergraduate TAs may be concerned about the credit/no credit options for their own courses. While you are not expected to take on the emotional burden of your TAs, you may want to make sure they are okay.

Discuss TAs’ responsibilities and expectations.

Unless your TAs were grading electronic assignments as their sole TA responsibility prior to this disruption, their roles and responsibilities have changed, even if you may not think they have. It is important to make sure you have a two-way conversation with your TAs. And remember, your TAs are there for pedagogical support, not technical support.

Some questions to discuss with your TAs
  • What are your goals for student learning at this point? In what ways can TAs support this learning? How much time will be needed for both instructor and TA to make this work?
  • How have the responsibilities and expectations changed for TAs? For the instructor? What resources and support do TAs need to be successful in this new context?
  • What course materials have changed and are TAs aware of these changes?
  • How much extra time are TAs spending on their new responsibilities? Is this reasonable given the current context?
  • What other factors (personal, professional) may be important to share with each other? What happens if one of you gets sick and cannot teach/TA? Decide if and how you will discuss with your TA(s) the potential for extra emotional labor during stressful times. Start with a definition of emotional labor and how it can manifest in learning environments.
Communicate regularly with your TAs.

Just like you, this is a new experience for your TAs as well. Provide information to your TAs as quickly as possible, even if all the details are not in place yet. Let them know if and when they can expect more specific information, and where they can find it.

Some other suggestions for communicating with your TAs
  • Remind your graduate assistants (and yourself!) that this is a triage situation: we are not expecting perfection, and we will need to be open to adaptation as the remainder of the semester unfolds.
  • Set up a tentative communication plan for the semester, confirming their availability, and providing instructions with what to do if that availability changes. Remember that–just like you–their availability may have shifted as they navigate changes in their coursework, research, own health, and personal commitments (e.g., caring for children, travel restrictions, etc.). Be direct but flexible and consider sharing your own limitations and challenges as well.
  • Consider implementing a weekly check-in with your TAs. You can use this time to both make sure they understand what you need from them, and to get feedback from them on how the course is progressing.

*Revised from Morris, Z. & Poproski, R. (2020). Working with TAs during significant disruptions. University of Georgia Center for Teaching and Learning.