Being a Successful Graduate Teaching Assistant: GTA Preparation
Learn About the Course
• Learn as much as you can about the class you are TAing for. Where does it fit into the departmental sequence? What requirements does it satisfy? Are most students majors or non-majors? This will help you anticipate the students you will have. Find out what the professor’s goals for the course are. What should students emerge from the course knowing?
• Talk to the professor to find out the specific responsibilities you have. What are your course duties as a GTA? How much discretion do you have in structuring your section, deciding what grades are, setting the pace of the class, etc.? Will you be running discussion sections? If so, are you responsible for covering new material, reviewing the lectures, or going over problem sets? Also find out the specifics about such administrative matters as grading, absences, make-ups, and other details. This forestalls surprises and embarrassments later in the quarter, as well as the suggestion that you or the professor have changed the policies unfairly.
• Familiarize yourself with the text and readings. This allows you to think about the material in advance, and to think of different approaches to teaching it.
Learn About Being a GTA
• Talk to other GTAs in the department, or other professors. What teaching tricks or advice can they offer? What kind of teaching experiences have they had at Stanford? What techniques have they developed? If they have TAed for this professor or the class, what advice they can give; what worked well and what didn’t for them? If possible, sit in on classes taught by successful GTAs.
• Take advantage of CETL and departmental resources. Go to GTA workshops offered by CETL or your department. Read your department’s handbook, if there is one, or check out the library at CETL.
• Familiarize yourself with SDSU policies. Be aware of SDSU’s policies on plagiarism, sexual harassment, and the rights of students with special needs.
• Arrange for early feedback, perhaps mid-quarter CETL observation or a visit to your section by the professor.
• Know where and when the class meets. If you’re holding sections or labs, find out where those meet. Is the room suitable to the needs of the class? Is it too hot, cold, noisy, big, or small? Is there a blackboard and enough chairs?
• Find out from your department if office space is available to GTAs. Also find out what kind of supplies you have access to (photocopy machine, overhead projector, science equipment, copies of the text, transparencies etc.) and how to get access to them.
• Plan the semester. Set aside time for preparing each class. Ask experienced GTAs how many hours per week you can expect to spend on preparing for sections or labs. At first you’ll probably require more time to prepare and get comfortable.
Content provided with permission from Teaching Commons at Stanford University with minor logistical alterations.