Welcome to your first semester as a teaching assistant! Please consult the following resources to help address some questions and concerns you may have as you prepare to teach this semester. You will find information on this page regarding lesson planning, running discussion sections and labs, fostering and maintaining student engagement, collaborating with supervisors and peer TAs, and accessing the campus resources available to support you as individuals and as instructors.
Keep an eye on our Teaching Preparation Series to register for workshops designed to support graduate instructors including our “Understanding your role: How do I work effectively with faculty and students?” session.
What is my role as a Teaching Assistant (TA)?
Your responsibilities as a TA will vary based on your department’s requirements, your appointment type, and the expectations of your supervisor. Please be certain to clarify the scope of your responsibilities as a TA with your respective department and supervising professor to ensure that you are accessing the most relevant and up to date information.
Fundamentally, your role as a TA is to support and collaborate with your supervising professor in order to successfully communicate with and teach your undergraduate students. Here are some responsibilities you may expect to have this semester:
- Attending lectures
- Managing weekly discussion section(s) or lab section(s)
- Attending staff meetings
- Grading course assessments (i.e. exams, essays, quizzes, lab reports, discussion board posts, etc.)
- Holding synchronous office hours
You may review the Faculty/TA Agreement College of Liberal Arts Faculty/TA Agreement draft and CTL Sample Agreement draft to get a sense of other appropriate responsibilities that might become part of your role as a TA. We recommend that you refer to these templates as a way to begin a dialogue to clarify your responsibilities with your supervising professor each semester.
For additional information related to your employment or position as a TA, please consult the Graduate School’s One Stop Shop website.
What technology tools I will need to use to teach effectively?
There are many technology tools and platforms available that will help you teach effectively. Below, we describe two technology tools for your teaching.
You will use UT’s selected learning management platform, Canvas, to record your students’ grades and attendance, message with students, and, if applicable, post announcements and assignments. If you would like any guidance setting up your Canvas account or navigating the features and plug-ins, you can sign up for Canvas office hours, tutorials, or one-on-one consultations here
If you have any questions about the Canvas interface or require guidance during the semester, you may access the 24/7 help desk through your Canvas course page. For more information about how to connect with support via phone or the chat function, please consult this webpage.
Please review Services for Students with Disabilities handout, which includes tips and strategies for making Canvas more accessible for your students.
You may use this video conferencing software to connect with your students, peers, and professors virtually for synchronous course sessions, office hours, and meetings. Please note that you must download and configure your UT Zoom account in order to set up or join UT-affiliated Zoom sessions. Please advise your students to follow this process as well.
Please review Services for Students with Disabilities handout, which includes tips and strategies for making Zoom more accessible for your students.
How can I communicate effectively with my supervisor and peer TAs?
Maintaining open communication with your supervising professor and peers throughout the semester is essential to fostering productive working relationships with your colleagues. Always consider your supervising professor to be your first point of contact whenever you have questions about the course content, schedule, assignments, grading, or your interactions with your students. You may reach out to your supervisor over email, bring up your questions in staff meetings, or request to meet with your professor when you require clarification and/or additional guidance.
You may review the College of Liberal Arts Faculty/TA Agreement and CTL Sample Agreement drafts. We recommend that you use these templates regardless of your discipline as a way to begin an open dialogue with your supervising professor at the beginning of each semester in order to clarify your responsibilities and establish healthy working boundaries.
If you require support navigating difficult relationships or conversations with your supervisors, professors, peer graduate students, or students, consider reaching out to the University Ombuds Department. The Ombuds Office is staffed by mediating professionals who offer free, confidential, neutral, and informal consultations. Ombuds representatives can listen and talk you through difficult situations, can direct you to appropriate campus departments or resources based on your needs, and can help coach you as you prepare to have difficult conversations with supervisors, peers, or students. While Ombudspeople will not intervene on your behalf, they are an excellent resource for those who would like to work with a neutral party to advise them on situations related to their enrollment or employment at UT.
How do I prepare for my first day of teaching?
As you prepare for your first day of class, consider the kind of classroom climate and community you wish to build with your students over the course of the semester. How do you hope students will engage with you and with each other? How can you foster discussions that are respectful but also engaging, challenging, and thought-provoking? Here are a few resources you might consider as you prepare for the beginning of the semester:
Consider your teaching ethos, or how you hope to successfully teach, mentor, and support your students as they meet the course learning goals
Consulting peers and written reflections on teaching, such as Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach, may help you generate ideas about how you wish to engage with your students.
Course Policy Sheets
After consulting your supervisor’s syllabus, consider drafting your own course policy sheet to complement the information provided in the syllabus. Here are some topics or pieces of information you may consider including in this document:
- Your name, pronouns, email address, and office hours times and locations.
- Your expectations regarding assignment deadlines, extension requests, and attendance requirements. Be certain these policies are consistent with those of your professor and peer TAs.
- Your expectations regarding discussion guidelines and classroom behavior. You may use this section as a jumping off point to establishing a “Community Guidelines” document in collaboration with your students.
- Language which actively and repeatedly encourages students to approach you about course content, assignments, deadlines, and accommodations (especially in relation to disabilities, extenuating personal circumstances, religious holiday observations, etc.)
- Links to key wellness and academic support resources on campus such as:
Plan and Facilitate Icebreakers on the First Day to Build Community
Reflect on your professor’s syllabus and your course policies sheet to find ways to make your classroom more inclusive
- Here is a resource you may reference to guide your reflection.
How can I engage my students in my section(s)?
As you navigate ways to foster consistent and different forms of engagement in your class or lab, please consider engaging with some of the following resources:
Tips for developing community and collaboration
Inclusive Learning Practices
- Inclusive Teaching & Learning Canvas page (DDIG-ITL)
- Link to COLA Orientation Canvas module (forthcoming)
- Richard Wong, PhD student in Mathematics at UT wrote a blog post on strategies for TAs to teach inclusively and equitably in STEM
How do I take attendance in my class and/or my supervisor’s lecture?
As you consider which method of attendance taking works best for you, remember that it’s important that you are consistent in your practice, that you clearly distinguish between attendance and participation in your evaluations, and that you record your attendance files in multiple ways to ensure that your records are always safe and easily accessible.
Strategies for taking attendance
Please consult the Center for Teaching and Learning’s guide for recommended strategies for taking attendance in your class and/or in your supervisor’s lecture. This document includes best strategies for tracking attendance during synchronous Zoom sessions, asynchronous lectures, or socially distant, in-person courses.
Where can I access information related to grading and assessments?
Grading and assessing student learning is often a key responsibility for TAs. There are many resources and strategies for you to learn about and apply in your own work.
Please consult the Center for Teaching and Learning’s “Creating Checks for Learning” webpage for more information regarding how to design effective forms of assessments depending on your discipline and student-centered learning goals.
Check out Dr. Kristie Loescher’s short video on Online Assessments.
Grading Best Practices and Time Management
For advice on grading best practices, time management, and navigating grade disputes with students, explore the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching webpage, “Grading Student Work.”
Keep an eye on the Teaching Preparation Series to register for workshops designed to support graduate instructors such as our “Grading & feedback: How do I quickly and fairly assess student work?” session.
For information about an efficient way to assess low stakes assessments such as short written reflections or discussion board posts, consult our 5-8-10 Grading Method Video.
UT Canvas offers trainings and workshops on a variety of topics, including using tools like Speedgrader, Gradescope, and designing rubrics. View their offerings and register for a training here.
Rubrics and Transparency
Ask your supervising professor for a rubric to guide you as you grade assessments. In some cases, you may develop a rubric in collaboration with your professor or design a rubric with your professor’s permission. For more information on the value of rubrics, please consult the Harvard Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning webpage, “Grading and Responding to Student Work.”
Classroom Assessment Techniques(CAT)
For information on the significance and effectiveness of classroom assessment techniques, please consult the CTL’s “Classroom Assessment Techniques” homepage. Instructors incorporate a variety of CATs to check for understanding and solicit student feedback. Some examples of CATs include written reflections, quizzes, in-class discussions or activities, and polls.
If you suspect a student of plagiarism or cheating, contact your supervising professor or principal investigator (PI) for directions on how to proceed before contacting the office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity.
How do I design a lesson plan?
You may think of a lesson plan as a script or scaffold that you design before a class period to help you structure your lesson and make the most of your time with your students. A lesson plan may be very involved or may be key bullet points, but it should always:
What is a Lesson Plan?
1) outline the objective for student learning for the day, 2) include the teaching or learning activities that you will include for the day, and 3) include the assessments or check-in strategies you will use to determine whether or not your students are learning the skills or content you had planned to teach them that day. For more information, please consult the University of Michigan’s Stiliana Milkova Center for Research on Learning and Teaching’s “Strategies for Effective Lesson Planning” webpage.
Keep an eye on our Teaching Preparation Series to register for workshops designed to support graduate instructors such as our “Lesson planning: How do I structure my time in the classroom?” session.
Teaching with Technology
Find ways to engage your students in class with polls (i.e. Instapoll), presentation software (i.e. Prezi), online portfolios or collections (i.e. Padlet, Folio), blogs, Google forms, annotation or visualization tools (i.e. Hypothes.is, Perusall), or Google apps to engage students in diverse, accessible ways. For more information about these tools and other platforms, access the CTL’s “Teaching with Technology” webpage.
What pedagogical and research related resources and support are available to me as a TA?
Your professional development and growth around teaching is important. There are many offices and programs on campus to support you. Below, we link out to a few of them for you to learn about.
Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL)
The CTL supports faculty, staff, and graduate student instructors at every stage of their careers. The CTL offers pedagogy workshops, designs teaching and learning symposiums, and offers consultations on teaching and DEI statements. For more information, please visit our Graduate Student Development page. Our Instructional Continuity page, which was first developed during the transition to online teaching as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic in the Spring 2020 semester, includes helpful information related to using technology as a teaching tool.
Teaching Preparation Series (TPS)
TPS website, in collaboration with campus partners, which include the Counseling and Mental Health Center, Office of the Ombuds, Title IX Office, Sanger Learning Center, and Services for Students with Disabilities, the CTL facilitate a series of active learning sessions each semester that are open to all graduate students to develop skills specific to their teaching roles. Graduate students have the opportunity to learn about, observe, practice, receive feedback on, and reflect upon teaching techniques.
Sanger Learning Center
All students are welcome to take advantage of Sanger’s classes and workshops, private learning specialist appointments, peer academic coaching, and tutoring for more than 70 courses in 15 different subject areas.
Public Speaking Center
All students are welcome to make appointments through the Public Speaking Center to work with speech and language coaches as they prepare for presentations and interviews or practice confidence-building while speaking.
What health related resources and support are available to me as a TA?
There are many resources and offices on campus that are available to support you and your students' well-being. Below, we describe and link out to several.
University Health Services and 24-hour Nurse Advice Line
The University Health Services provides health services for graduate students and undergraduates on campus. You can make an appointment Monday-Friday from 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM with any of the following departments: General Medicine; the Allergy, Immunization, and Travel Clinic; Women’s Health; Nutrition Services; Physical Therapy; Sports Medicine; STI Testing; Sexual Assault Forensic Exams; and Travel Health. The 24-hour nurse hotline is ideal for those seeking medical advice outside of business hours or on the weekends.
UT Counseling & Mental Health Center (CMHC)
24-hour crisis line: (512) 471-2255. Between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM, the UT Counseling & Mental Health Center offers graduate and undergraduate students individual counseling, group classes, 24-hour telephone counseling, and a MindBody Lab. In the event of an emergency, you can always reach a professional at the 24-hour crisis hotline: (512) 471-CALL (2255). If you have a concern about an undergraduate student or graduate student, you can contact a Counselors in Academic Residence Program (CARE) counselor to follow up. CARE counselors are especially suited to addressing some of the following: anxiety, coping with failure, depression, managing stress, perfectionism, and test anxiety.
Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD)
The office of Services for Students with Disabilities works with all enrolled students to identify and then implement reasonable accommodations for students with physical, sensory, psychiatric, neurological, intellectual, and/or learning disabilities. Please advertise this service to your students early and often each semester. SSD professionals also work to help enrolled graduate students receive reasonable accommodations related to disabilities that may affect their ability to access or complete coursework. Please note that University ADA coordinators are able to work with graduate students to implement reasonable accommodations related to their employment [i.e. a position as a Teaching Assistant (TA), Assistant Instructor (AI), Graduate Research Assistant (GRA), or part-time employee].
The Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC)
The Gender and Sexuality Center offers workshops, allyship trainings, information regarding support groups and grants, and discrimination prevention on campus.
Office for Inclusion and Equity (OIE)
The Office of Inclusion and Equity handles and resolves complaints of discrimination, facilitates diversity planning on campus, and supports incluusive faculty recruitment and retention. The OIE is committed to ensuring that UT complies with civil rights legislation and is committed to advancing diversity and inclusion. You may report concerns you have about a student, peer, or faculty member to the OIE.
Title IX Office
The Title IX Office is dedicated to protecting members of the UT community from all forms of sexual harassment, sex discrimination, exploitation, and intimidatation. As an employee of the University, you are a mandatory reporter by law. This means that you are legally required to report any information related to Title IX violations as they relate to current or former UT students, staff, and faculty.
Voices Against Violence (VAV)
A subset of the Counseling and Mental Health Center, this student organization is dedicated to providing information and support related to violence prevention and coping strategies. You may attend or request workshops, performances, or presentations on safety and wellness offered by members of the VAV team.
How do I navigate a situation in which I am concerned about a student’s or my own safety?
[Please Note: The resources listed here pertain mostly to your role as a TA interacting with undergraduate students. The UT Graduate School maintains an excellent guide to mental health and wellness resources available to graduate students, which is accessible here]
If for any reason you ever feel that you or your students may be immediate danger, call 911. UTPD will respond promptly. If you need the UTPD for a non-emergency, call (512) 471- 4441 ext. 9.
Behavioral Concerns Advice Line (BCAL)
The Behavior Concerns Advice Line is a service that provides UT Austin’s faculty, students, and staff an opportunity to discuss their concerns about another individual’s behavior. Trained staff members will assist the individual in exploring available options and strategies. They will also provide appropriate guidance and resource referrals to address the particular situation. Depending on the situation, individuals may be referred to resources including but not limited to the Ofﬁce of the Dean of Students/Student Emergency Services, Counseling and Mental Health Center, and the Employee Assistance Program. An individual can either call the line at 512-232-5050 or report their concerns using the online submission form.
The Ombuds Office is staffed by mediating professionals who offer free, confidential, neutral, and informal consultations. Ombuds representatives can listen and talk you through difficult situations, can direct you to appropriate campus departments or resources based on your needs, and can help coach you as you prepare to have difficult conversations with supervisors, peers, or students. While Ombudspeople will not intervene on your behalf, they are an excellent resource for those who would like to work with a neutral party to advise them on situations related to their enrollment or employment at UT.
Student Emergency Services (SES)
Student Emergency Services (SES) in the Office of the Dean of Students serves as a primary point of contact for students and their families and assists with navigating campus and community resources. SES can help students by offering information regarding course load reductions or full withdrawals, emergency funds, short-term emergency housing, referrals to appropriate campus ofﬁces, discrete notiﬁcations to professors regarding absences, and coordination with families.
UT Counseling & Mental Health Center (CMHC)
24-hour crisis line: (512) 471-2255: Between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM, the UT Counseling & Mental Health Center offers graduate and undergraduate students individual counseling, group classes, 24-hour telephone counseling, and a MindBody Lab. In the event of an emergency, you can always reach a professional at the 24-hour crisis hotline: (512) 471-CALL (2255). If you have a concern about an undergraduate student or graduate student, you can contact a Counselors in Academic Residence Program (CARE) counselor to follow up. CARE counselors are especially suited to addressing some of the following: anxiety, coping with failure, depression, managing stress, perfectionism, and test anxiety.
Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
The Employee Assistance Program offers consultations designed to provide support and promote mental health and wellness. These services are available M-F 8:00 AM – 5:30 PM (including over the lunch break) and are free of charge to all UT employees.