The main role of a teaching assistant is to provide support to the course instructor to ensure the effective delivery of the required materials and to foster a positive learning environment. Given the vast array of possible courses led by Teaching Assistants at UWM, their individual roles will vary considerably. Each assistantship is tailored to the needs of each specific course and determined by the instructor.
The following is a list of some typical responsibilities that teaching assistants may be expected to carry out. It is designed to help instructors devise their own guidelines to suit the needs of their specific course. Regular communication and feedback between instructors and Teaching Assistants is of paramount importance to ensure expectations are met. The Teaching Assistant should meet with the instructor frequently throughout the semester to discuss class materials and duties.
The responsibilities of Teaching Assistants are highly variable, but can include:
- Assisting faculty with classroom instruction, records, and assignments
- Leading discussion sections
- Meeting with students during office hours
- Conferencing with students individually or in small groups
- Delivering lectures or guest lectures
- Leading group projects or discussions
- Grading assignments or papers
- Managing course communications in Canvas
- Preparing laboratory materials
- Recording and calculating grades
- Providing feedback on assignments
- Enforcing laboratory rules and procedures
- Proctoring examinations
- Taking attendance or monitoring participation
- Obtaining and distributing course materials
- Ordering course textbooks and monitoring supply
Teaching Assistants are also responsible for being timely and reliable and showing up to class at the correct time and without unexcused absences. Programs and even individual instructors usually have procedures for emergency absences, which Teaching Assistants should understand at the beginning of the semester.
Teaching Assistants are also responsible for maintaining professional interactions with their students and supervisors.
Because Teaching Assistants are teachers in training, they are expected to learn even as they are teaching. The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning offers many valuable workshops and seminars for instructors at all levels, including Teaching Assistants. Many assistants find it helpful to seek advice from more experienced assistants, observe other assistants, read literature on pedagogy in their field, and keep a journal or other record of what worked in class, and what might be improved.
Because expectations can vary by program, course, and faculty instructor, faculty instructors are advised to hold an introductory meeting where they convey clear instructions about their Teaching Assistants’ responsibilities. For example, if an assistant is expected to record attendance during every class this must be clearly communicated in advance. Even experienced Teaching Assistants might not have encountered a new instructor’s expectations before. Similarly, if an assistant expects training in how to conduct a discussion section, they should clearly request that from the supervisor. Regular and open dialogue helps both assistants and supervisors understand each other’s expectations.