Frequently Asked Questions

  • At Rutgers, Teaching Assistants (TAs) are appointed by individual departments, either as part of a funding package or on a competitive, year-to-year basis. If you have questions about becoming a TA, or about the details of your TA appointment, contact your graduate program administrator.

    In addition, graduate students with a strong biological background may be qualified to teach General Biology. Please contact the Division of Life Sciences for more information.

    Advanced graduate students (preferably with a master's degree) may inquire about opportunities to teach in the Writing Program. Please contact the the English Department's Writing Program directly for more information.

  • Contact your program administrator (or the program administrator in the department in which you are teaching).

  • E-credits are credits that do not factor into your grade point average or count toward your degree, however, they do count toward maintaining full-time student status. Your teaching assistantship (standard appointment) carries with it 6 E-credits. (Partial TA appointments have proportionally fewer E-credits.) This means that if you are registered for at least 3 other credits of coursework or research you maintain full-time status in the university, thus insuring that you receive all the benefits of a full-time student.

  • First, make sure that you are enunciating clearly and speaking slowly. If you are self-conscious about your English skills, your nervousness may thicken your accent. Should problems persist you can contact the English as a Second Language (ESL) program for assistance.

    Remember, many instructors, regardless of their native language, will often find themselves repeating things. However, if you are doing this so often that it begins to interfere with the lesson, contact ESL.

  • Your syllabus should plainly and clearly state your attendance policy as well as the consequences of violating it. You may wish to give students who are close to being penalized a warning and/or reminder of the consequences should they continue to be late/absent. (Late students can be just as problematic as absent students, so make sure to include late arrival as part of your attendance policy.)

    If students are made aware of your attendance policy at the beginning of the semester, then there will be no legitimate cause for complaint later on.

  • Classroom disruptions must be dealt with immediately. The easiest way to avoid conflict is to enumerate certain behavior guidelines in your syllabus, indicating what types of behavior you do not want to see in the class. When students engage in one of these behaviors, calmly but firmly remind them of your policy and ask that they stop.

    Explain to your students on the first day that attentiveness and participation are required. Make it clear that students are not only expected to attend class but to be there mentally. Listening to music, texting, chatting with classmates, shouting out comments, doing homework for other classes, chewing gum loudly—all these activities disturb others in the class and are not allowed. In addition, they signal a disregard for classmates.

    A common problem is the student who feels the need to monopolize class discussions or to blurt out answers before anyone else has a chance to respond. These students inhibit the quieter students, dampen the enthusiasm of the less shy, and cause resentment and anger against themselves and against the instructor who allows them to dominate the class.

    One such student is the very bright student. At the beginning of the semester at least, the student is often implicitly encouraged in this behavior both by the other students and the teacher. The other students in the class are relieved that they do not have to respond because they know that this vocal student will; the instructor—especially the new and nervous instructor—will be happy that someone is responding. Soon, however, problems may develop. Students will never become wholly engaged in the materials if they feel that the class is a dialogue between the teacher and one or two students. They will soon resent the fact that the course focuses upon a single student, and this resentment can easily turn into hostility by the end of the semester. The end result is a class which is disengaged, a course which lacks the depth that it could have derived from a full range of student responses.

    An instructor must work to engage all students. Give the students a minute or two to formulate an answer after asking a question—do not be afraid of silence. Look around the entire class, making eye contact with as many students as possible. Call on students who have not raised their hands. If they are unable to answer the first time, almost certainly they will be better prepared the second time. If a student gives an incorrect or vague answer, work with this student awhile. The bright student should certainly not be ignored, but others must also be given the opportunity and the encouragement to participate.

    If the student continues to monopolize the class, take the student aside after class and discuss the situation as you see it. Explain that although you recognize the value of the student's contributions and the depth of the student's knowledge, you also see the value of involving the whole class in the learning process. Most bright students readily acknowledge their own overeagerness and are willing to give the other students in class an opportunity to respond before they do, especially if their teachers make it clear that they appreciate the student's ability and intelligence.

    If a student interrupts others or shouts out the answer without waiting to be called on, make it clear immediately that this behavior is unacceptable. Even in a class discussion, where spontaneity is desirable, students should recognize the rights of others and treat them with courtesy. A discussion should never turn into a free-for-all, and you, the instructor, should act as moderator of the debates, exercising some control over the students and directing the discussion.

    A related problem is the student who is forever volunteering answers that do not really respond to the questions you have asked or that tend to move the class away from the topic under discussion. (This is not to say that there is only one answer to any question.). Rather than discussing the text or the issue under consideration (about which they often know very little), the student will relate long stories based on personal experiences or introduce material from another class, neither of which have relevance to the topic at hand. Oftentimes, the result of the student's response is to get the class off track.

    Anger, however, is not the best response. It is always preferable to try to avoid this situation in the first place, by formulating questions carefully so that students are forced to relate the answer to the text or the matter under discussion. If the student ignores your pointed question, as such students often do, ask the student to relate the answer to the question more specifically. If the student is unable to do this, you should ask him or her a direct question about class preparation: "Have you read the text?" or "Have you worked out all the steps of the solution?" If not, suggest that the student see you after class. At that time you should kindly, yet firmly, explain the inappropriateness of that student's responses and the necessity of paying attention to the assignments and class focus. When once informed point-blank that bluffing is not useful, the student will usually stop this behavior.

    Another problem is the genuinely disruptive student. You will sometimes encounter students who sit together (usually in one of the back corners of the classroom) and talk and laugh throughout class. Directing a pointed comment at this group may remind them of the expected behavior. "Did you wish to add something to the discussion, Mr. X?" will let them know that their behavior has been observed and is unacceptable. You should also speak to them after class, individually whenever possible. If you wish, you can ask that they no longer sit together during your class. Most students will not persist in this kind of behavior once you have very clearly let them know that you will not allow it.

    Other students may signal their lack of interest in the class by surfing the web, doing homework, or texting. Try to catch the eye of these students, letting them know in a non-verbal way that you do not approve of their behavior. Or, if the students are so engrossed in the activity that you cannot catch their eyes, ask a direct question of these inattentive students, and they will certainly not be able to answer. Often this is enough to discourage such behavior. If this doesn't work, however, ask them to stop at once and tell them to see you after class. Do not ignore these students for to do so only encourages others to participate in this kind of behavior.

    Students who make offensive remarks in the classroom must be informed at once that their behavior is unacceptable. Make it very clear from the beginning of the semester that this can never be tolerated in a university classroom. Sexist, racist, homophobic, and xenophobic remarks should be confronted on the spot. If the student seems genuinely not to understand the problem, explain why the remark is unacceptable. But if the student clearly means to offend, you should respond sternly and quickly. This is one classroom situation where a show of anger may be justified. If, after being spoken to, the student persists in such behavior, you may have to appeal to the Dean's Office of that students particular school for further action.

    In most situations, however, the basic rule is not to embarrass the student in class. Embarrassment does little to help change the student's behavior and may inhibit the other members of the class from contributing. Never let a student feel 'put down;' this intimidates and usually turns off future participation.

  • This is a not uncommon complaint. If you made the course requirements clear to the students at the beginning of the semester and have stuck to those requirements, then while the students may feel overburdened, they understood what workload was required of them from the beginning. If you are still unsure, talk to your faculty advisor for the class or your department chair. Students who continue to complain should be referred to their school's dean's office.

  • Taking an exam on the established date and time is very important, and if the student does not have an approved absence, you are not obliged to change the test date for that student. You need to be firm about test dates, however, if you think the student's request has merit, consult the course coordinator or, if you are teaching independently, the department chair.

    If the student does have an approved absence (e.g., student athlete), you are not required to give the student the same test as those who took the test on the assigned day.

  • By no means are instructors required to give extra-credit. Should you choose to do so, make sure that all students in your course have the option available to them. Extra-credit options should be made clear on the syllabus at the beginning of the course. If the extra-credit is not part of your original course design, there must be extenuating circumstances (not just poor performance) to justify it. In all cases, consult the course coordinator or, if you are teaching independently, the department chair.

  • Often, undergraduates feel more comfortable confiding in TAs than in professors. If a student comes to you with a problem, it is important to listen to the student, but keep in mind that you are not qualified to deal with serious personal or psychological problems. There are counseling services available to Rutgers students. You may want to refer your student to the appropriate one. It is also a good idea to make the course coordinator or department chair aware of any issues.

  • Harassment is a form of discrimination directed toward an individual or group based on race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, age, sex, sexual orientation, disability, or marital or veteran status. Harassment may be physical, non-verbal or verbal, and is a serious concern. As a TA, it is your responsibility to respect the rights and dignity of all of your students.

    Students who make offensive remarks in the classroom must be informed at once that their behavior is unacceptable. Make it very clear from the beginning of the semester that this can never be tolerated in a university classroom. Sexist, racist, homophobic, and xenophobic remarks should be confronted on the spot. If the student seems genuinely not to understand the problem, explain why the remark is unacceptable. But if the student clearly means to offend, you should respond sternly and quickly. This is one classroom situation where a show of anger may be justified. If, after being spoken to, the student persists in such behavior, you may have to appeal to the Dean's Office of that students particular school for further action.

    At the same time, avoiding harassment does not mean never challenging your students or allowing them to honestly debate. Rutgers is committed to the principles of academic freedom and believe that vigorous discussion and debate, as well as free inquiry and free expression, are integral parts of the classroom.

    If you have a concern, you should consult Rutgers’ policy and procedures regarding handling harassment and/or contact Associate Dean Barbara Bender.

  • If you suspect a student of cheating, you are required to report this to the course coordinator or department chair. It is the policy of Rutgers University to refer all violations of academic integrity to the appropriate dean.

    Please visit Rutgers' Academic Integrity website for more information.

  • As student athletes often travel, they may sometimes have to miss class or even an exam. Students who are involved in a sport at the university should inform you of this at the beginning of the semester and give you their travel schedule. If there will be serious conflicts over the semester, it is best to discuss how to resolve them at the very beginning.

    Approximately a week before each trip, the student will bring you a letter, signed by the coach and an athletic academic advisor, to remind you of the upcoming absence. Students who tell you that they are unable to attend class but fail to produce such letters should not be officially excused. A NCAA regulation states that students may not miss class for practice, only for official games.

    Student athletes are responsible for making contact with their instructors as soon as they return from a trip. Although they have been excused from class, they are still responsible for finding out what went on in the class and completing the assignments. If a student athlete in your class seems to be having difficulty keeping up, be sure to speak to the student. Do not assume that the student is just a 'jock' and not really interested in the course; given the often difficult schedule of classes, practices, and games, it is not surprising that some students feel enormous pressure and may need some extra help.

  • All students have a basic right to privacy, and it is the responsibility of the TA to respect and safeguard that privacy. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, commonly known as FERPA or the Buckley Amendment, dictates that information about students cannot be released without their express permission. Although this ruling most directly concerns staff members working in offices that deal with academic transcripts, disciplinary records, psychological files, and placement office credential files that contain letters of recommendation, TAs too must take care that student grades, records, and identifiable information are handled in a confidential manner.

    NEVER discuss one student's grades with another student or with any other person. Of course, you may discuss students with those who have a professional "need to know," such as other faculty involved with that student.

    When returning exams or papers, do not allow other students to pick up papers for their absent friends. Posting grades by student identification numbers or by student names constitutes a violation of students' right to privacy. Return written work only to the student concerned. Do not email grades to students. Posting grades on a secure e-platform, such as Canvas, Sakai, or eCollege is acceptable. Students may visit the online SAS Gradebook to find their final grades a week or two after the instructor is required to submit them.

  • Many TAs know what remedial programs exist in their own department for students (i.e., peer tutoring, formal study groups, etc). If such support does not yet exist in the department, TAs may wish to help students set up informal groups or even match up willing students as study partners, for one-on-one tutoring.

    In addition, the university has several centers designed to assist students in need. These include the:

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