Supplemental Resources: Supporting Student Learning

Partnering With a TA Teaching Team

Note: In Fall 2020, MTLE collaborated with the College of Letters and Science and L&S Learning Support Services to develop resources and case studies around effective TA team facilitation, especially in remote and socially distanced teaching environments. You can find this longer resource on the Letters and Science Remote Teaching Toolkit page “Building Effective TA Teaching Teams.”

Teaching Assistants (TAs) occupy a unique position in the university.

  • As students, TAs are learning new research domains and communication genres. They may be taking coursework in addition to their teaching, so they often have a lot to juggle. Different TAs may also have different levels of exposure to the behaviors expected in academic environments at the graduate level or in the workplace. Thus, TAs benefit from a supportive environment and a clear articulation of their roles and responsibilities.
  • As instructors, TAs may be learning how to teach for the very first time. (Alternatively, they may be entering your team with years of past instructional experience.) TAs may be specialists in your field or they may be just as new to your course’s subject matter as their own students are. (Granted, as expert learners, TAs have many more tools to draw from to learn the material in time to teach!) Thus, TAs benefit from working with lead instructors who are willing to clearly articulate the objectives of the course and its major assignments.
  • As contingent members of a department, TAs are pulled in multiple directions based on the pressure to publish, research and service obligations, and the need to make ends meet. (Many TAs take up additional employment outside of the university to supplement their stipends.) Indeed, pressures of this type contribute to what Evans et al. (2018) describe a as a mental health crisis in graduate education.[1] Thus, TAs benefit from thoughtful mentorship and an environment that acknowledges and honors their multifaceted roles on campus.

The following resources aim to help you support members of your instructional team, establish clear expectations and boundaries, and promote TAs’ learning and wellbeing.

Resources for Working with Teaching Assistants

Strategies for Creating and Sustaining Effective Instructional Teams – This resource stems from a 2016 Teaching & Learning Symposium Session coordinated by Chris Castro (MTLE), Megan Schmid (The Collaborative for Advancing Learning and Teaching), Theresa Pesavento (DoIT), and Jenny Higgins (Gender & Women’s Studies). It includes guidance for designing productive team meetings, TA course observations, and more.

Establishing Clear Expectations With a TA Teaching Team – This resource outlines a series of questions to address with your TA teaching team early in the semester.

Campus Resources – Teaching, Learning, and Wellbeing – Many graduate instructors are not aware of the resources available to support their teaching professional development and wellbeing on campus. The tools in this document are equally applicable for TAs and faculty.

Graduate Assistantship Policies and Procedures – This document outlines official university policies for graduate assistantships. Individual departments have developed more specific policies and expectations, but instructors and teaching assistants should know where to find additional information. (To provide one example: your department may or may not have an informal expectation that TAs find coverage for their sections when they are ill, but TAs are also entitled to sick leave, and many TAs themselves aren’t told that this is so, something that can compound the distress of unexpected health problems or family emergencies..)

  1. Evans, T. M., Bira, L., Gastelum, J. B., Weiss, L. T., & Vanderford, N. L. (2018). Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate educationNature Biotechnology36(3), 282.


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MTLE Resources Copyright © by Christian Castro; Naomi Salmon; and Madison Teaching and Learning Excellence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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