Serving as a teaching assistant in a class is a wonderful way to support fellow students, learn about pedagogy, and develop your leadership and mentorship skills. You will also gain insights into your learning practices and strategies that will aid your own work as a student. When you enter into this role, you are also committing to upholding a set of responsibiltiies. The resources on this page are designed to help you develop the skills to be successful in this role.
In this handout, we describe five skill, knowledge, and dispositional areas that will help you be a more effective teaching assistant or fellow. These skills, and reflections for you to consider in each area, are as follows:
1) Awareness of Limitations:
- Can you identify when you are at the end of your skill set?
- What resources should you seek out next in order to best help a student? Professor? Other campus resources? (e.g., Class Deans, Counseling Services, Accessiblity Services, Peer Tutoring Services)?
2) Communication Skills:
- Are you listening carefully to the students with whom you are working?
- Do you know what the core issue is that the student is struggling with?
- Have you reflected on the implications for communicating professionally with everyone, regardless of your relationship to them, while you are working?
3) Confidentiality and Respect:
- Confidentiality indicates respect for the student and their private experience as a learner
- Confidentiality also increases your ability to be effective in your role, as a trusted resources
- Treat information about students with whom you work as confidential. Keep informaiton about a student between that student, yourself, and your professor.
- The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act protects information about the educational record of students.
4) Intellectual and Ethical Responsibility:
- What does it mean to have academic and personal integrity in this role? e.g., Do you report accurate hours on your time card? Do you notice and report academic misconduct by a peer?
- How can I equitably navigate personal relationships in this role? e.g., How do you handle personal requests for insider information from friends or partners in the class? How do you navigate demands on time if close friends ask for intense levels of help beyond your working hours?
5) Safety and Well-being:
- What helps you and the students with whom you are working feel comfortable? e.g., Do you want to keep the door open during meetings? Does the student or students you are working with prefer to keep the door open? Do you have a mechanism (GoogleChat on your computer or your cellphone nearby) to contact others in case of medical or other emergencies?
- Amherst students indicate having a high level of loneliness. TAs are in leadership positions. How can you work to help students find connections between each other?
Developing Strategies and Skills for the Specific TA Roles you will be Serving:
- Resources for TAs who hold drop-in help sessions or office hours
- Resources for TAs who support labs
- Resources for TAs who grade assignments
- The Math Fellows Program. A number of you may be serving as a TA in the Math Fellows Program, a program developed by Dr. David Cox in the Mathematics Department. In this program, not only do Fellows receive recommendations for conducting office hours and providing students with direct support, but they also read pedagogical research and are encouraged to reflect upon how their students learn and how they themselves can also enhance their own learning. Read about the Math Fellows program here.