TA Assignments

Your teaching assistantship assignment will be made by your department at the earliest possible date. Although you may have found out in June that you were awarded a teaching assistantship, you may not know the particulars of your assignment until late August or even early September. Obviously, it is in the best interest of all involved to make assignments as early as possible, but because of variables such as student enrollment, assignments are sometimes made quite late.

Although a late assignment may not present problems to a TA who will be grading, those assigned to teach may well be worried. Do not panic. Although others may have had more time to plan their courses, you can still have a successful semester if you sit down at once and get organized. The following sections may help you in doing so. Do not be shy about going to a faculty member for assistance. Every department should have someone to assist and advise TAs. Find that person and get the help you need to make yourself more comfortable.

The more prepared you are on the first day of class, the more secure you will be. No one, of course, can offer a blueprint for how to teach a class, but the following suggestions for preparation and organization of classes may give you some direction as you begin to plot your course.

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The First Day

Not surprisingly, many TAs are particularly apprehensive about the first day of class, imagining all of the things that could go wrong when they walk into the classroom. Although most TAs recognize that they do have the necessary background knowledge in a subject—acceptance to, and survival in, graduate school is a confirmation of this—many panic at the idea of conveying this knowledge to a group of seemingly uninterested and judgmental students. The transition from student/learner and somewhat passive receiver of knowledge to teacher/educator and active center of the class can be unnerving. Bear in mind that it is natural to be nervous on the first day; even experienced teachers feel anxious in facing a new class, a new semester. Taking the time to prepare well beforehand will help insure that the first class will go smoothly; indeed, it may even be fun.

As you walk into the classroom or lab on the first day, remember that students make certain automatic assumptions about the teacher, the first being that since you are the teacher you must know what you are doing. Your position—the person in front of the classroom—vests you with an authority that you may think unmerited, but your students will not. Use this knowledge to bolster your confidence before you step into the room.

The expectations of the students will certainly not carry you through an entire semester—you must, after all, demonstrate your competence as the semester goes on—but they may give you added courage on those first few days. Finally, remember that the students are probably feeling more than a bit anxious and worried about how you, the teacher, will judge them.

Among the common fears expressed by new TAs are:

  • What if I can't control the class?
  • What if I freeze and am unable to think or speak?
  • What if I lose my train of thought?
  • What if a student asks me a question I can't answer?
  • What if I give a wrong answer or make a mistake in presentation?
  • What if a demonstration or experiment does not work properly?

Planning classes with care may help to eliminate some of these worries, but it is best to accept the fact that sooner or later you probably will make a mistake; it won't, however, be the end of the world. Consider beforehand how to respond to such a situation, and it becomes less threatening.

Although everything may not work out exactly as you planned, and, frankly, some lessons may just fall flat, this does not mean that you have failed as a teacher. Learn from your mistakes and go on; be assured that your errors will not seem as disastrous to the students as they do to you. If you realize that you have given incorrect information, correct it at once. Do not try to cover up your mistake; this will only make things worse. Admitting that you were wrong will not cause students to lose respect for you; refusing to admit a mistake may.

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First Impressions

First impressions are important. What you do, say, and, even how you dress send out signals to the students in the class. Undergraduates often shop around for classes during the first week of school, so you will want to give your students an accurate picture of what they can expect over the semester.

Teachers can set a certain tone for the semester by their overall behavior and appearance. For example, a teacher who is not punctual sends a clear message to the students. (TAs, however, should not be dismayed during the first week by students who wander in late; they may have registration difficulties, problems finding classrooms, or miscalculating the time it takes to get from class to class. Be understanding.) Instructors, however, should iron out all minor problems beforehand—i.e., where the classroom is, how long it takes to get there—to set a good example. On the first day and throughout the semester, arrive on time and begin class promptly.

Some TAs, and instructors, arrive 10 to 15 minutes early to class most days. Having time to collect your thoughts and re-orient your focus toward class is one benefit. This technique also allows you to talk to your students informally, find out what other classes they take, and allows the students who are too shy to talk during class to ask you questions.

You may, of course, dress in any way that you feel is appropriate, but know that students will interpret your dress in certain ways. Dressing a bit more formally than your students, who may be uncomfortably near you in age, makes an important distinction which may help to establish proper authority. A more formal or conservative jacket and tie or dress may make you feel more comfortable as you step into the role of teacher. This is not to suggest that you should go out and buy a new wardrobe or try to become someone you are not, but to remind you to consider the powerful messages clothing conveys.

The First Class

To begin, you must decide what you intend to achieve with your first class. Do you wish to plunge into the course work almost immediately, establishing a fast pace and a sense of purpose in the class? Or do you wish to spend the first day getting to know something about your students and letting them get to know you, taking time to establish an informal, more personal relationship with them? Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages; the choice depends upon your style as a teacher, your vision of the course, and your overall goals.

The most straightforward way to tell the students what to expect during the coming semester is to hand out a syllabus that gives the students a clear plan for the entire semester (see Preparing a Syllabus). The syllabus is a preview of coming attractions, presenting an overview of the course that will help students decide during the drop/add period whether or not to commit themselves to the class. This applies to recitation sections as well, although a recitation syllabus would be much shorter

Taking attendance, at least for the first two weeks of class, is an absolute necessity in order to help to establish an accurate class roster. Some departments require a teacher to report attendance numbers to them during the drop/add period (the first week of each semester) so that they can assign late-registering students to an appropriate section. It is in your own interest to comply with departmental policy regarding this—otherwise, you may find your class over- or underpopulated. Also, some departments require a report of absence-dates at the semester's end for students who have received low grades.

Again, in addition to monitoring student attendance, taking attendance daily also helps you to learn the students' names quickly. Making the effort to match faces with names tells the students that—to this teacher at least—they are individuals. Learning the names of your students is perhaps the single most effective way of demonstrating to them that the classroom will be a place where their individual ideas and personal development are valued. Of course, this is difficult if not impossible in a large lecture class, but in most lab sections, recitations, and smaller classes, it is possible. Some teachers ask that the students take the same places, at least for the first few weeks, so that it will be easier to remember names. Whether you call your students by their first or last names depends upon the relative formality or informality you wish to establish in your class, but try to be sensitive to all students. Do not make older students uncomfortable by addressing them as Mr. or Ms. if you are calling the rest of the class by their first names, unless they specifically request you to do so.

How should the students address you? Again, this is your own decision. The level of familiarity you wish to establish is something that you, not the students, should determine. Let your openness, humor, sensitivity, and good-will establish a warm rapport with your students while maintaining the distance necessary to the teacher's role.

Whatever you choose to be called, inform the students at the beginning of the first class. Do not merely tell them that your name is Ann Smith. This forces them to decide whether to call you Ann or Ms. Smith, or Mrs. Smith, or Dr. Smith. Write your name on the blackboard at the beginning of class in the way that you wish to hear it all semester. Put it on your syllabus and on all other handouts. Tell them your name again when you introduce yourself. (You would be amazed at the number of students who do not know their instructor's name at the end of the semester; don't let your students be among these legions.)

So, what do you do after you have taken attendance, handed out your syllabus, and introduced yourself? Whatever you do, make sure that you have planned it carefully. Students feel more confident when they see that their teacher is organized and prepared. You will probably go over the syllabus, clarifying points about such matters as grading and your attendance policy where necessary, answering questions as they arise. Students have a right to know what to expect from a course in terms of workload, grading, and other matters. For lab instructors, it is often necessary to open the first class with a discussion of lab protocol and safety procedures.

These preliminaries will not necessarily take up the entire class period. Many teachers like to spend time learning about the students, gaining background information which may be used later in the semester. Some distribute index cards and ask the students to respond to a series of questions designed to give them an opportunity to describe the range of their knowledge in the subject and the outside interests they have that may be of use in planning discussions. Other teachers prefer having the students give information about themselves orally to the class in order to break the ice and accustom the students to speaking in class.

An alternate way of beginning the semester is by presenting a mini-lecture that gives a broad overview of the subject of the course and a general idea of various scholarly approaches to this field of knowledge. There is, perhaps, no better way to give the students an idea of what to expect from the course. One problem with this approach, however, is that the class will almost certainly change in size or composition by the second or third class, so some students will invariably miss the opening lecture. Some teachers save this lecture for the second class, when the students have already had time to do some preliminary reading in the texts. Students who do not arrive until the second or even third class may be at a slight disadvantage, but they will also understand that time in the class will not be wasted and their regular attendance is required.

Other teachers prefer to begin the semester with a discussion. This takes some of the pressure off the new teacher (although a discussion class presents its own unique challenges—see The Discussion Class) and signals to the students that the course will demand engagement and participation. The teacher should work to encourage everyone to join in. A discussion can be a valuable way of introducing some of the concerns of the class while allowing the teacher to gauge the levels of knowledge of the students. In addition, asking students to identify themselves before they speak will speed up the name-learning process.

All teachers will decide for themselves the combination of practices that will strike the correct balance for their class on the first day. Here, as in all social situations, a number of factors come into play, the most forceful of which is the personality of the individual; in the end, who you are will determine the styles and methods of the class based on your personality, discipline, and teaching style.

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Creating The Right Atmosphere

One of the hallmarks of a good teacher is the ability to create a classroom environment where all students feel comfortable, free to respond, to offer opinions, and to ask questions. This atmosphere will probably develop over the course of the semester, as you and the students begin to trust each other. Before this can happen, you, the teacher, must be comfortable. Although as a novice teacher you may be anxious, make an attempt to relax. Do not look upon your students as the enemy, waiting for you to make a mistake so they can jump on you, but consider them partners in learning. Both you and your students have things to teach each other, and both you and your students can make mistakes.

Never belittle or criticize a student for making a mistake. You must, of course, correct the error, but it is best to do this in a kindly and non-judgmental way. Students will only participate freely if they know they will not be castigated for making mistakes. Offer praise whenever possible but only when deserved. Teachers who say "very good" after every student response, brilliant or inane, run the risk of devaluing all praise and help neither the good nor the poor student.

All students in your class should feel they have an equal claim to your attention. Consider your non-verbal behavior. When you look around the class, do you tend to make eye contact only with certain students? Do you teach to one side of the room, thus encouraging students to choose desks on the other side to avoid your gaze? Be on guard against personal prejudices and unconscious stereotyping (see Our Common Purposes). Do you call on women as frequently as you do men? Do you find yourself letting class discussions be dominated by either men or women? Are there certain ethnic or racial groups with whom you feel uncomfortable? In your classroom, do you make eye contact with members of these groups as often as with others? Although teachers may be unaware of these habits, students will notice, so guard against them.

Don't feel obligated to be a stern disciplinarian at all times. Although you should expect students, for the most part, to conform to the rules you have set, be understanding when one comes to you with a legitimate excuse or a request for a special favor—an extended deadline or a make-up test, for example.

You do not have to grant every request, and repeated ones by the same student should be looked upon with suspicion, but hear the student out and then make a decision based on the circumstances, not on some arbitrary rule you have established (see especially Non-traditional Students).

In conclusion, listen to your students and treat them with respect and courtesy. Unless you do this, it is futile for you to expect the same from them.

Bringing the World Into the Classroom

The ideal classroom would be a place without walls or boundaries, where the students and the 'outside world' were continuously in contact, constantly interacting in interesting, often unpredictable, ways. In such a place, students could easily recognize how variously the subject matter of the class was connected to that world.

Although such a classroom is not physically practical, teachers do have an obligation to break down some of the walls that neatly compartmentalize knowledge and to help their students become informed, intelligent citizens. Teachers are much more than walking textbooks. Rather than limiting themselves to conveying a narrowly defined body of knowledge to their students, they can help them gain some real sense of the world beyond the classroom and beyond abstract problems or faceless histories.

Individual teaching styles will surely have an impact on the choices that TAs make. Some people feel very comfortable about introducing controversial topics or personal beliefs to their students; others feel that to do this goes beyond the bounds of the teacher/student relationship. Deciding how far to go may sometimes prove so problematic that the decision not to stray from familiar paths may be simpler. Fear of proselytizing or of giving biased or incorrect information intimidates many TAs—and these are legitimate fears—but these concerns should not stop teachers from examining their classroom strategies and considering how to broaden the scope of their classes, how to begin to help their students to make connections between the subject discussed in class and the rest of the world.

Many techniques are available for enlarging the scope of the class. Teachers can make sure that the readings for their class represent a number of different viewpoints. Students are often surprised to find that a textbook is not just an objective compendium of facts but a necessarily subjective reading of a topic that may not be universally accepted. It is useful to bring in guest speakers so that students hear an authority who is not in total agreement with the teacher. Finally, use your students? individual differences of opinions as a means of analyzing arguments and testing various positions.

By making the relationship between that which we speak about in our classes and that which affects the world around us explicit, we can help our students see their own connectedness to the world and help them to understand their own responsibilities towards improving and caring for that world.

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Preparing a Syllabus

Before preparing a syllabus, the TA teaching a class for the first time should meet with the professor supervising the course to discuss his or her expectations for it. In many introductory classes with large enrollments, the syllabus is designed by members of the department. If you are teaching a lab or recitation section, your syllabus will almost certainly be defined by the work to be covered in the lecture. In such classes, fewer opportunities exist for input by the TA. In some classes, however, TAs may have sole responsibility for the materials covered and the pace of completion. Although here, too, consultation with a faculty member can be useful, even essential, the final decisions may be left entirely up to the TA.

Preparing a good syllabus requires careful thought and some skill. Judging the amount of time needed for a given topic, providing the right amount of background reading, and considering the best times of the semester for tests and papers are subjects that require careful pedagogical and practical consideration. (For example, no exams may be given during the final two weeks of the semester.) The teacher who is constantly falling behind in the scheduled work is not doing the students a favor; students often see this as an indication that they too can fall behind. Although it is not necessary to be absolutely rigid about sticking to the syllabus, students appreciate a teacher who is able to organize his or her own and the students' time effectively.

The design of the syllabus will be determined largely by the subject matter. For example, some subjects, like history and literature, lend themselves to chronological arrangement, and others, such as science and engineering, may require organization around general topics. Whichever method you choose, it should be made clear to the students from the beginning. In addition, the overall connection between the class material and the text, the labs, or other elements of the course must be explained, by you, to your students. You are the expert in the room and part of your job is helping students understand these connections.

Alter your syllabus as little as possible after the semester begins. It is unfair—and, in some cases, against university policy—to change the course requirements after students can no longer change the section or drop the course. You cannot expect to remain on schedule at all times, but you should try to create a realistic syllabus that gives a good indication of what the class will achieve over a semester.

A good syllabus should:

  • CITE the material to be covered—all texts, reserve readings, and other materials. Students also appreciate full citations, not just titles or authors' last names;

  • DETAIL all course requirements, the number and kinds of exams and papers, and the dates they are due;

  • DEFINE all policies on grading, attendance, make-up work, and class participation. For example, if students will be graded on a curve, explain what the method will be;

  • EXPLAIN policies on plagiarism and academic dishonesty; set limits on group work, defining how independently you expect students to work on homework assignments (see Academic Integrity);

  • INCLUDE your name, email address, your office location, office hours, and telephone, home number if you wish (see Office Hours).

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Choosing the Text

The choice of a text is a central consideration in planning any class. As a TA, you will find that in many of the courses to which you are assigned you have no input about the choice of books. Especially in courses with multiple sections, members of the department will choose what they consider the most useful books for the majority of students. In this case, you are not responsible for ordering books. The department will supply you with a desk copy of each book and, sometimes, with a teacher's guide. (Although a teacher's guide may at first seem a useful tool, most teachers soon find that they are better off without it; so approach such aids with caution.)

Review each book carefully and decide how you wish to use it. There will certainly be chapters you will want to stress, others you will wish to minimize. Consider how much supplementary material will be necessary for your students to reach the goals you have set for the course, either through photocopied materials that they can purchase or books and articles placed on reserve at the library (see Libraries for information on how to place materials on reserve; also Preparing a Reading List), or online materials available on Sakai.

What should you do if you absolutely hate a chosen text? You may want to speak to the instructor in charge of the course, explaining your reservations, perhaps suggesting another one. (Keep in mind, however, that almost certainly no change can be effected for the upcoming semester.) Although the instructor may sympathize with your complaints, he or she may still have valid reasons for choosing that book. Controversial texts—including those which you 'hate'—can be useful teaching tools for undergraduates if, and only if, they are explained and contextualized well.

The instructor may also suggest strategies for making the most of the book. Experience may even cause you to revise your opinion on its usefulness; or, if your reasons are compelling, the instructor may consider changing the text for the next semester.

In any event, you will almost certainly have to use the book in the upcoming semester. You may want to share your feelings with the class, giving the students your estimation of both the strengths and weaknesses of the text, but try to stress what you see as positive. If you are wholly negative, students may wonder why you or the department made them waste their time (and money) on what you are telling them is a book of dubious value. Remember, too, that these students do not have your advanced knowledge of the subject and may find the book very useful in helping them to understand the basics.

TAs who are given the freedom to develop their own booklist are confronted with a different set of issues. Among the factors a conscientious teacher will consider are:

  1. What are my goals for the course? Which book or books can best further these goals? The more clearly you formulate your plan for the semester, the more surely you can choose the books to help you carry it out.

  2. Realistically speaking, how much material can be covered in a comprehensive way over the semester? Would it be better to choose excerpts rather than assign entire books? How much reading can students be expected to do, taking into consideration the level of difficulty of the texts? Experienced instructors in your department will have a fair idea of how much work students can or will cover. In some fields, for example, there are fairly standard 'rules of thumb' concerning how many pages of reading per class meeting can be assigned.

  3. How expensive will these books be? Is it better to order one large anthology and supplement it with photocopies or to order six or seven smaller books, which may be more expensive? Although cost should not be the only consideration, given the price of books today, this factor has to be taken into account. Note, too, that if you choose to rely heavily on photocopied materials, copyright laws must be taken into account. This is the case whether you choose to distribute the materials in paper form or electronically via the library's website or a course website like Sakai.

Once you have compiled what you think is a good preliminary book list, take this along with your syllabus to the department chair or to an instructor who has already taught this course or a similar one. Ask his or her opinion of the list. Consider all suggestions—remember they have more extensive classroom experience than you—but, in the end, it is you who will determine the structure and focus of the course.

Once you have decided upon the booklist, you must complete a course book order form for the class. The department administrator will be able to provide you with the form. You may also place your order through the bookstore's website. You will need to register through the bookstore in order to place your order through their website.

These lists should be completed as soon as possible so that the books will be available at the bookstore by the first day of classes. Delayed book orders can wreak havoc on the most carefully planned syllabus.

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Supplementary Materials

Many teachers choose to photocopy materials as handouts from various sources to supplement the text and their lectures. Your department administrator will be able to tell you the photocopy limit for your section. Most departments will copy a limited number of pages per class, per semester. If you go beyond this limit, you are charged at a per-copy rate. Since this can run into a substantial amount over the semester, ascertain the department's policy before you proceed.

Other instructors prefer to post such supplemental materials online on course websites—such as Sakai—so that students can choose whether to use printed or electronic copies for their time in your class.

Some teachers prepare packets of materials that the students must purchase. Local commercial copy shops will usually copy, bind, and sell these packets to the students for a reasonable price. You can also check with the bookstore to see if they can make packets. It is your responsibility to make sure that you are not violating copyright laws with your packet.

Take care not to overwhelm students with handouts; the purpose is to clarify, not to make things more difficult.

Preparing a Reading List

An additional way to further students' intellectual development is by providing them with a supplementary reading list at the beginning of each semester. By encouraging your students to do additional reading in the subject and providing them with a list that reflects the diversity of the field, you are pushing your students to investigate a topic beyond the ordinary limits of the course.

When designing such a list of readings, always think of the student; that is, the works should be challenging but not incomprehensible to the typical undergraduate. Certainly include works of varying levels of difficulty but indicate the range on your list. An annotated list works best, with the teacher adding comments about the pleasures and difficulties of each book. If students would benefit from special information about an author, provide it. Biographical information about the author's life or historical period might also be useful.

Recognize the difficulties an undergraduate might have with certain texts and be honest about them. A student may still choose to read one of the more difficult books but may struggle with it a bit longer before giving up because you have given warning of the potential problems. If students have been alerted to the difficulties, they will not consider it a personal failing if they have trouble understanding the text—they may even view mastering the book as a personal challenge.

Constructing a 'For Further Reading' list is valuable, even in classes where students are not required or expected to do outside reading. It signals to the students that you view the subject as an ongoing pursuit, one of sustaining interest, that the student will continue to study over a lifetime. Occasionally alluding to these texts in class or choosing interesting examples from them may help to motivate students to read the texts at a future date. Such lists also give the teacher an opportunity to demonstrate to students the arbitrariness of boundaries between disciplines—the science or math teacher who includes fictional works, the literature teacher who recommends anthropological studies, the psychology teacher who includes a book of poetry on the list—all stretch the boundaries of the disciplines and the intellectual boundaries of the students in a challenging way.

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Record Keeping

Before the semester begins, consider the kinds of records that must be maintained on students and devise a workable system for doing so. The University mandates that all grades be kept on file by the instructor for at least one year; some departments also keep final exams for that period of time. Many experienced teachers suggest that you keep this information for as long as possible but certainly for at least five years.

Student attendance and performance should be accurately reflected in these records in as detailed a manner as is practical. All letter or number grades for quizzes, exams, homework, and in-class work must be properly recorded. In addition, many teachers find it useful to reserve a space next to each student's record for a brief final evaluation of his or her strengths and weaknesses (one or two sentences at most). This brief note may assist you in the future when the student asks for a letter of recommendation.

Take time to record all information clearly and accurately. You will have to refer to this information several times in the course of the semester: at mid-semester when it is time to issue warning notices, at semester's end when you are calculating final grades, and at any time in the semester when you meet with students to discuss their progress in the course. These tasks will be much less time-consuming if your grade information is in order.

Some instructors keep all grades on file on a computer. This may simplify the task, but computers being what they are, it is essential to keep a backup copy of all records. Also keep in mind the possible security risks: who else will have access to your records? Perhaps the best way to manage electronic record-keeping is to print out and maintain updated hard copies throughout the semester for use in class and as a backup in case of major computer failure.

In fact, it is a good practice for all TAs to keep a second copy of their students' grades. Make it a habit to photocopy the current semester's gradebook or hard copy of a spreadsheet version of your grades as the term progresses. Although this may seem overly-cautious, one hears enough stories about lost or stolen grade books to warrant this precaution. If you lose your records, the burden of proof for a grade is on you, and the resulting problems could become a bureaucratic nightmare.

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Rosters and Drop/Adds

Class Rosters are available online here. This web-based application assigns two roles to instructional faculty:

READ - can view and download Class Rosters, and can submit warning grades.

ADMINISTRATIVE - can view, download, submit warning grades, and can grant and revoke privileges to others.

You should have been assigned a role by your department chair or dean's office. To access your roster online, you will be prompted to provide your NET ID and RCI password. If you don't have an RCI account and wish to establish one, visit the OIT website to create one. Contact your department chair if you have questions or need clarification regarding your role in relation to class rosters.

The online electronic rosters are updated as students change their registration. Do not attempt to add the names of students who do not appear on your roster and do not attempt to delete the names of students who have not attended.

Some students do considerable 'shopping' for courses during the first weeks of a semester; others will be deregistered after the first two weeks of classes because they have not paid their current term bills. (Once these students pay their term bills, their courses are automatically restored; they do not have to reregister for their classes.) During the first week, students may add classes (please consult your department regarding specific special permission number procedures); during the first two weeks, students can drop courses without incurring any penalty. For the next six weeks a 'W' will be recorded on the student's transcript. After eight weeks, a student can drop a course only with the permission of the dean; after the 12th week of classes, a student can drop a course only with the permission of both the college dean and the faculty member teaching the course. Hence, course rosters are often in considerable flux. When you submit final grades for the semester, you will have an opportunity to indicate that a student has *never attended* or add a student's name and RUID number to the roster; hence, you should keep careful records throughout the semester.

Warning rosters are generally available between the fourth and seventh week of the semester. You will be notified of the specific due date for warning rosters. The first hourly exam or some substantial graded assignment should be scheduled and graded before the seventh week of classes so that students who do poorly and are in danger of failing can be notified.

The Warning Roster will list all of the students registered for your class. If a student's name is not listed, please send the student to their dean's office to properly register.

Warning grades are as follows: W1 = Warning for poor performance; W2 = Warning for poor attendance; and W3 = Warning for both poor attendance and poor performance; comments should also be entered next to the warning grades.

The final roster is the Grade Roster. Grades must be submitted within 48 hours of the final exam as scheduled by the university. Instructors are expected to submit final grades using the on-line electronic roster system; however, in special circumstances instructors may consult with their departmental staff regarding procedures for submitting final grades via a paper roster. It is vital that you submit both your Warning Roster and your Grade Roster in a timely manner.

For undergraduate students, you may submit a grade of either A, B, B+, C, C+, D, F, NG, TZ, or TF. (Note that minus grades are not permitted.) Assign a grade of NG (no grade given) to a student who has not attended the course. The NG will have no immediate effect on a student's GPA; however, if the situation is not resolved within the following semester, the NG will convert to an F, and the GPA will be recalculated accordingly. Assign a grade of TZ when a student is unable to complete the semester's course work due to a verifiable emergency situation; reach an agreement with the student as soon as possible as to how the course should be completed. The TZ will have no immediate effect on a student's GPA, however, if the situation is not resolved within the following semester, the TZ will convert to an F, and the GPA will be recalculated accordingly. Assign a grade of TF if the student does not complete the course work required, or has not taken the final exam. The TF will be calculated into the GPA immediately. If the course work is not made up within the following semester, the TF converts to an F. (Similarly, instructors can submit TD, TC, TC+, TB, or TB+ grades if the instructor believes that the student should receive that letter grade even if s/he completes no further work for the course. T grades can never be lowered.) Please consult with your department regarding procedures for submitting changes of grades after the semester has ended.

Only when submitting the Final Grade Roster may you add a student's name to the roster, providing the student has been attending your class the entire semester. Please add the student's RUID number, school, and grade next to the student's name. If, at the end of the semester, the student has still not registered for the course, the grade will not appear on the grade report (or on the student's transcript) until the student contacts the office of the academic dean of their college or professional school and receives written permission to have the course added.

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The Classroom

You will be assigned a specific classroom or lab when you are given your first roster at the beginning of the semester. If possible, go and look at the classroom before the first class meeting to judge its suitability. The logistics of scheduling an enormous number of classes make it almost impossible to get a class location changed once the assignments are made, but if the classroom is totally inappropriate for the course you intend to teach—in size, available facilities, etc.—report the problem at once to the departmental administrator or to someone in Scheduling and Space Management.

This department will attempt to accommodate you, but changes can be made only when essential

Facilities Maintenance

Although what happens in the classroom is naturally much more important than the physical appearance of the room, no one should have to spend a semester in an unpleasant environment. When you look at the classroom or lab for the first time, take note of its physical condition. Is the classroom clean? Do all of the lights work? Does the heat/air conditioning work? Are there enough desks? If you will need a podium, does the room have one? Is there an adequate supply of chalk and erasers? Are there broken windows or locks? In most cases the classroom will be at least adequate. If there is a problem, however, act at once to remedy it. An annoying buzzing light will distract even the most interested student, just as an overheated classroom will lull even the most attentive to sleep.

Facilities Maintenance (848-445-1234) should be notified in the event of problems with plumbing, air conditioning, repairs, maintenance, classroom supplies, or broken locks. The operator will refer your problem to the appropriate department for necessary action. If it is an emergency, the operator can radio to one of the workers to respond immediately.

Facilities Maintenance has an online form where instructors may submit a non-emergency request. These requests could be in regard to:

  • No chalk, missing eraser;
  • Chalk or whiteboard damaged;
  • Missing tabletop podium, instructor's table or chair;
  • Need more table arm chairs or there are too many table arm chairs in the room;
  • Manual screen is broken or not working well;
  • Classroom is dirty, too hot, too cold;
  • Window treatments are torn, missing, or broken;
  • Missing light bulbs;
  • There is a leak;
  • There are pests (ants, mice, etc.)

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Office Hours: Getting an Office, Scheduling, Uses, Problems

Getting an Office

The university requires that all teachers make themselves available to their students outside of class for advisement, so TAs with teaching assignments should be assigned office space at the beginning of the semester. Office assignments are usually made before classes begin or during the first few weeks of the semester. Because of the shortage of office space in most departments, it is likely that you will have to share your office with several other TAs. Teaching and class schedules are so varied that this presents fewer problems than may seem probable at first.

Unfortunately, in some departments, space is at such a premium that TAs who grade or teach labs and recitations may be without office assignments at the beginning of the semester. If you find yourself without an office, act as soon as you can. First, ask your department administrator for suggestions about what to do. If no help is received from this quarter, speak to the instructor with whom you are working. Some faculty members allow TAs to hold office hours in their own offices at times when they will not be using them.

If you are unable to coordinate times with a faculty member, consider other suitable places for your students to meet with you. Try to find an unused classroom where you can meet students undisturbed or an area in one of the libraries where conversation is possible. Be sure to announce in class where and when you will be available, and then be there faithfully at the appointed time. Sometimes these unofficial locations can be a plus, the casual setting making students more comfortable about approaching and speaking to you, but the TA may have to work harder to sustain an appropriately formal teacher/student relationship.


If a student comes to you with personal problems, you should listen; but remember that you are not always qualified to help. Do not attempt to be a counselor or psychiatrist. You can best assist the student by knowing where to find help and by urging the student to make an appointment with a more qualified person, perhaps letting the student make the call from your office phone. If possible, walk the student over to the appropriate office. Always be supportive and understanding, but recognize your limitations (see Troubled Students; Counseling Services for Troubled Students.

A problem some TAs encounter is the student who comes once a week for office hours and wants to just sit down and chat. Although this may not always cause a problem, at times it can be very frustrating. Other students may see this student in your office and assume that you are busy, possibly putting off students who have valid reasons for seeing you. Be frank in a case like this. Kindly, but firmly, tell the student that although you would like to talk, other students should also have the opportunity to discuss the class. Stress the fact that you will be more than willing to discuss any legitimate problem. Of course, if you suspect that the student's frequent visits are symptoms of an emotional problem, you will want to help the student to receive the proper counseling (see Counseling Services for Troubled Students).

Another possible concern is the student who comes to your office at hours other than your office hours. If you are not engaged in any particular work, you may decide to see the student; but if the student is one who generally seems apprehensive or appears to be under some stress, you should welcome the opportunity at any time to open up the lines of communication. Use your own judgment about the student's needs. But, if you have budgeted your time carefully and set this period aside for your own work, your students should be expected to respect your decision about office hours except in extreme cases. Explain to these students that you cannot speak to them now, but that you will gladly see them during your regular office hours or perhaps sooner at an agreed-upon, mutually convenient time.

Making the most of your office hours is a fundamental way of ensuring that your students make the most of your class. A teacher who is able to establish personal contact with most of the students early in the semester not only helps the individual students but the class as a whole.


The importance of maintaining regular office hours cannot be overemphasized—students must feel that they have access to their teachers. No matter how good a teacher you are, if the students feel that you are inaccessible, too busy to meet with them, they will feel cheated and may lose interest in the class.

The amount of time an instructor schedules for office hours is a decision to be made by the individual, based on the needs of the students. Most instructors agree, however, that one or two periods a week are simply not enough. Student schedules are so varied, with classes spread around so many campuses, that meetings may sometimes be very difficult to arrange. Some teachers find that scheduling office hours before or after class works out well because many students try to avoid scheduling back-to-back classes.

Consider the needs of your students before setting office hours. Holding your office hours at reasonable times makes it clear to your students that you do wish to meet with them; holding office hours on Friday afternoons at three o'clock or on Monday mornings at eight o'clock insures your seeing only the most industrious or desperate students. As a rule, it is probably best to establish a minimum of two periods a week for office hours while letting students know that you are available for conferences at other times by appointment. Sometimes you may set up appointments with the students in the library, if that is more convenient for both of you, or in one of the student lounges. If you are teaching a large section, you must expect to set aside more than two periods to accommodate all students who wish to speak to you.

You may wish to supplement these face-to-face office hours with online office hours. One useful way to do so is to use the Chatroom function in Sakai. This chatroom is available only to your students and the conversations are archived online. This feature makes it particularly useful for review sessions so that students who were unable to participate in real time are able to read the transcript of your answers to questions posed by other students.

It is vital to remember that, since the chatroom is viewable by all students, it is not suitable for personal discussions about grades, makeup work, etc. Although there are such limitations, students often appreciate online office hours because they can 'attend' regardless of where they are (home, dorm, between classes, break at work, etc.) Online office hours are a good supplement to face-to-face office hours but are NOT a substitute.


After setting aside the required time for your office hours and announcing them to the students, what then? Who makes the next move, you or the students? If you sit back and wait for the students to appear at your door, you are letting a great opportunity pass by. Some students will finally materialize (usually late in the semester when they are worried about their final grades), but for the most part you will spend some quiet and undisturbed hours in your office over the semester. This is great if you plan to use your hours as a time for class preparation or paper grading, but it is not so great if you hope to establish strong and positive relationships with your students.

Some suggestions for getting students to come to your office:

  1. During office hours, keep your office door open. Let the students know that you are there and available.
  2. When students do come into your office, put your work aside and make them feel like welcome guests, not intruders. For some students, it takes an enormous amount of courage to go and speak to a faculty member face to face. Do not justify these fears by scaring the students away.
  3. When you meet with students, look at them and listen. Put your work away, and give them your undivided attention. Let them do the talking. Pay attention. Look interested. Be interested.
  4. Come into class a little early, stay a bit late, and chat with your students. If you establish a friendly relationship with them in the classroom, they will be less hesitant about coming to see you later.

Do not discount the importance of this kind of contact for your students and yourself. One-on-one teacher/student tutorials should be the norm, not the exception. No two students learn in the same way, and such office visits help you to discover the various ways students approach the course.

Office hours are valuable not only for the students but also for the TAs. A few students coming in with the same problem should suggest to you the topics that need to be explained more clearly, the concepts or assignments that have been misunderstood by more than one student. In addition, instructors can gain some valuable feedback from the students about their effectiveness as teachers. If students trust you and feel comfortable, they will be able to express their feelings about the weaknesses and strengths of your class; and the information can help you improve your classroom performance.

How can students be motivated to come to the office? First, the instructor can remind the students frequently of the scheduled hours and other appointment possibilities. Tell students regularly that you are there every week, same time, same place, and that they should not hesitate to bring up any difficulties they are having in the class. Many teachers require that all students schedule an appointment before or after the first paper, or after the first exam, so that their progress can be discussed. Once students find your office for this required appointment, they are more apt to make a return visit. If you write a comment on an essay—"Why not come and talk to me about this in my office?"—most students will interpret this as a command rather than a suggestion. Many students who would not initiate this contact are, nevertheless, grateful for the opportunity to let the teacher get to know them a little better. And, again, once the ice has been broken, the second visit becomes much easier.

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Attendance Policy for TAs

If for any reason you are unable to conduct a class for which you are scheduled, notify the department or the appropriate person as soon as possible. Missed classwork must be made up at some point in the semester, placing a future burden on the TA and on the students. If the TA is in charge of a lab section, a substitute must be found because in most cases the students will not be able to make up the lab. Students would be justified in complaining about a TA who misses classes or who is regularly late just as you have a responsibility to speak to a student with these problems.

Everybody, of course, becomes ill at one time or another or has an emergency which prevents him or her from attending to duties. In these situations, do what you can to make your absence cause as little disruption as possible in both your own life and in that of your students. Know beforehand the department's policy on absences and the appropriate person to notify about them.

Attendance Policy for Students

The question of an attendance policy is one that TAs should decide before the beginning of the semester. A clearly established policy will avoid many problems, but to be effective any policy must be enforced consistently and equally. This is not to suggest inflexibility; exceptions can and, at times, should be made, but if every case becomes an exception, then policy—and part of your credibility—flies out of the window. So, make these decisions at the beginning and then follow through as much as is realistically possible.

How strict an attendance policy should be established? Official university policy is that attendance "shall be expected." This is generally interpreted by faculty and administration to mean that attendance is required. How closely should a TA monitor the attendance of individual students? Clearly, in a large lecture class, taking attendance is time-consuming and difficult to manage unless the instructor is willing to circulate a sign-in sheet at every class. Even in smaller classes, however, where it is possible to monitor attendance, some teachers are reluctant to establish a strict attendance policy because they feel that college students should be allowed more freedom than high school students and should be free to attend or not attend as they choose. Many teachers do not want to waste class time in taking attendance.

There are, however, compelling reasons for requiring attendance and more or less painless ways of managing the necessary record-keeping. Perhaps the most important reason for regulating attendance is that it forces you to learn your students' names very quickly. You may be surprised at how soon you recognize students by name, and at that point you can take attendance quickly and silently at the beginning of the class period. In addition, by setting a limit on the number of absences, the teacher is signaling to the students that what takes place in class is important. You are not merely rehashing what the professor said in the lecture class, or restating the material found in the text, but you are using your recitation, lab, or lecture to enlarge the students' understanding of the topic. Taking attendance may also assist you at the end of the semester when compiling grades. Your decision about a student with a true borderline grade could be influenced by the student's attendance and participation; in cases such as this, being able to match a face with a name is helpful (see The First Class).

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