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Klaas Kraay

I have some resources for working with and mentoring TAs that I'd be willing to share with the person who posted this - please feel free to email me at [email protected].


I'd probably lecture on M and W and then split the class into smaller groups for the Friday class (if you can get rooms). Then each TA takes a group for a discussion/seminar/tutorial. I'd also use the TAs for grading and make sure to split it evenly between them.


(1) When it comes to how the weekly TA hours are subdivided to various tasks: you might ask more senior colleagues how they usually do it. At my institution there's a form to fill out in advance of the semester for every class, and so it would be very easy to show someone new what the local norms are for dividing things up.

(2) You should have the TAs do whatever feels like it most saves time for you, because you have a lot to get done. When I was just starting out teaching, I found having TAs do the occasional guest lecture felt like a huge relief, which made me more willing to pick up the leftover grading at the end of the semester. These days I spend much less time on prep, and so I am more inclined to fully deal with the grading via TA hours.

(2a) (Don't have the TAs teach on the same day in the same room to the same group of students, that seems like a waste of hours.)

(3) One thing I will add about time and work: don't just think in terms of minutes spent grading a paper or being present in a classroom. Count up time spent on reading/preparation which is sensitive to the TA's experience/career stage, time spent on emails with you and with students, meeting students for grade complaints, uploading all the grades, meeting with you to talk about how grading should get done, etc. One important part of preventing TA overwork or working different amounts is giving them clear, firm instructions on how to assess and give feedback on student work.

(4) Because you are particularly concerned about which task you give to each TA, I will add: the first thing to be concerned about is to just give them the same hours of work, and it sounds like their contracts are already doing this. And if you want to be extra careful, taking into account that your margin for error in time estimates may differ for time allocated to grading versus time allocated to teaching, give your TAs equal amounts of time allocated to those respective two tasks.

Bill Vanderburgh

Two important things come to mind first. (1) Are these undergrad or grad student TAs? This makes a very big difference in terms of the kind and level of responsibility you can give them. (2) Be very conscious to not exceed their work hours. This includes prep time, grading time, office hours, etc. You shouldn't force them to exceed weekly averages in high-demand periods (midterm grading, for example); they are going to be busy with their own studies then and they are students first. (Speaking of that, 20 hours seems like way too much! When are they going to do their own studying and class work?!)

Other considerations: Is there a TA union, what are departmental norms, is there a TA training program, have they TA'd before?

Someone suggested splitting the class on Fridays. Unless the rooms are already reserved in the course schedule, that might well be impossible. Anyway, 60 students is too many for a first-timer's discussion section.

In my first TA job, my professor had each TA talk about the answers to some of the questions from the first test. It was a good way to have a "soft" intro to being in front of a large group. Quick, low stakes, had a full grasp of the content since we did the grading, low prep time load, etc.

"Duplicate grading" (or whatever it is called) is a good idea for new graders. Have both of them grade all the papers/exams independently. Then you spot check, look for systematic differences, and together discuss cases where the grades are divergent above some threshold. (Otherwise average them, or use the higher grade.)

academic migrant

As others have mentioned, do not exploit them. If you're kind enough, do things that may help them/their career.

Get the uni to pay them to give guest lectures.
Write to their letter writers what they have done exceedingly well, especially if those things were documented into formal evaluations.
Do not pursue innovative teaching styles that would increase their workload.
Everything that is beyond their responsibility should go straightly to you, e.g. "please let me pass/give me more grades/I should get top marks for the BS I've written."
Stand with them if they face discrimination from students, staff, or admin.
Tell your students that your TAs are most likely underpaid.

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