Tips for Teaching Assistants

Four male college students in graduation robes walk towards the camera.

Graduate student teachers face unique teaching challenges based on their dual role as students and teachers. Teaching assistants (TAs) and the instructor of record should come to a clear understanding of the TA’s responsibilities prior to or close to the beginning of a class. In this article, we provide guidance for TAs on obtaining this knowledge. Teaching assistants (TAs) and the instructor of record should come to a clear understanding of the TA’s responsibilities prior to or close to the beginning of a class. In this article, we provide guidance for TAs on obtaining this knowledge.


TAs need to understand which duties they are personally responsible for in the classes in which they assist. The best way to achieve that understanding is for the TA to schedule a meeting with the supervising instructor of record as soon as possible—preferably before classes begin.

The instructor of record should be informed as soon as possible about schedule conflicts, including such things as taking comprehensive exams during the semester or traveling to events such as family weddings or professional conferences.

Class Outcomes

A TA must understand the learning outcomes/goals/objectives of the class in which he or she is assisting in order to promote student learning. This understanding can be achieved in two ways:

  1. Obtaining a copy of the class syllabus and reading it carefully, and
  2. Talking to the supervising instructor of record about the class and having them explain the outcomes of the class more fully.

Contact Information

The instructor of record should have several forms of contact information for each TA, preferably a telephone number and an e-mail address that is checked regularly. If the instructor uses the learning management system, he or she will need each teaching assistant’s EUID (initials + four digits) so that they can grant access to the course shell.

Course Materials

The department will usually supply the textbooks that will be used in courses. TAs can usually get textbooks from the supervisory instructor or from the department’s graduate student teaching supervisor. Each TA should check with his or her supervisor to see if there are other materials needed and how to acquire them. At the end of the semester, departmental policy may require that textbooks and other course materials be returned to the department.

Class Meetings

Each TA should understand the expectations of the instructor of record regarding attendance in the class. Some instructors will want to have a TA to attend every class period; others may not. Expectations of responsibilities when attending class must also be clear. Expectations may include taking roll, taking notes, setting up audiovisual equipment, etc. A TA should communicate with the supervising instructor to get a clear understanding of these responsibilities.

A TA who has a particular interest in the subject of a course should consider asking the instructor of record about the possibility of delivering a class lesson. Some instructors are reluctant, but others will welcome the opportunity to mentor graduate student teachers in their own teaching. When presiding over a class meeting, it is important first to obtain clear information about what should be covered during the session and then to prepare teaching strategies with the instructor of record. Asking for and responding to feedback from the instructor can improve the quality of a TA’s teaching.

Office Hours

In most cases, TAs are expected to hold regular office hours. Instructor and TAs should understand department policy regarding office hours. The TA should know the supervising instructor’s expectations about the number of office hours and the kinds of tasks done during those office hours, such as answering questions about lectures and explaining grades and grading policy.

It is critical to be in the office during office hours. When it is necessary to step away from the office, it is best to tell an officemate or to leave a note on the door. Failure to keep office hours may compromise the ability to obtain future TA assignments.


A TA is a representative of the university and department and should conduct themselves as professionals. Cues regarding professional attire may be taken from the instructor of record (some faculty are more formal than others).

Likewise, it is important to treat students with respect and to avoid undue familiarity with them. All UNT instructors, including TAs and TFs, are subject to the policies regarding sexual harassment and consensual relationships. Instructors and TAs are likely to run into students outside of the campus environment; public behavior should not undermine your credibility in the classroom.

When a TA assists a TF, the TA may be in the awkward position of working for a fellow student who is very close in age and “class rank.” In this situation, it is important to remember that this “classmate” is still the supervisor and should be treated accordingly.

Examinations and Grading

Ask your supervising instructor what your responsibilities will be with regard to grading and examinations.

  • Will you be expected to help construct exams?
  • Will you need to make copies of the exams?
  • Will you be grading written assignments?
  • Will you be grading examinations?
  • What will your role be in administering exams?

Record Keeping

TAs often have some responsibility for record keeping and may be expected to take roll and keep a record of each student’s number of absences or to keep the records of grades for the class. A TA must be sure to understand the supervising instructor’s expectations, as well as university policy, regarding student record keeping.

Laboratories or Recitation Sections

In some departments, a TA’s principal responsibilities may involve teaching a lab or recitation/discussion section that is associated with the course taught by the supervising instructor. In such cases, it is important that TAs get a clear understanding of what is expected of them. They must know what material is to be covered, what teaching techniques they should use, and what part they will play in grading. The most important thing is that the TA and the supervising instructor share a common understanding of the TA’s responsibilities.

Time Management

A TA must balance his or her responsibilities as an employee of the university and his or her responsibilities as a graduate student. The exact number of hours worked per week may vary according to appointment, but the average workload should equal the number of hours expected.

In your roles as a student and as an instructor (TA), it is essential to prepare in advance for major assignments and to communicate with the instructor of record. For example, if a TA has a major research paper due the Monday after an exam is administered in the class for which he or she is assisting, the TA should tell the instructor of record ahead of time that it may not be possible to get exams graded over the weekend. Ultimately, balancing commitments requires communication.

Let the instructor know if you are feeling overextended. The instructor may not realize how long it takes to grade each individual assignment and thus may not realize how many hours you are putting into teaching responsibilities. If you notify the instructor that a particular grading assignment is consuming too much of your time, the instructor may spread that work out to other helpers or may have advice on how to complete the task in a quicker, more efficient way.

In an effort to help with this, download this checklist for tasks for TAs to complete prior to throughout the semester.