Being a Successful Graduate Teaching Assistant: Starting Strong
Before the First Class
• Visit the room for your section at least one day before class meets and decide how you will set up the chairs and where you will sit. Will you be able to see all the students and they you? Will they be able to see each other? Check to verify technology is working and take time to practice with the equipment you will be using.
• Arrange for any visual aids or other supplies you’ll need: markers, handouts, etc.
• Check the bookstore to see if the required texts are there, and the library to see if the books are on reserve.
• Bring plenty of course syllabi to class, paper, attendance sheets or index cards for students to write their names, email addresses, and other information on. If you have created your own section syllabus, make sure it includes your name, office location and office hours, phone number, email address, class policies (grading, late assignments, missed sections, due dates, etc.) and perhaps your specific goals for the section.
• Practice your first class ahead of time. Try out the opening few minutes on a colleague or friend. Have someone check whether you are audible from the back of the room.
• Have abundant material prepared. Don’t rely on the students to fill the time with questions. Knowing you are prepared will boost your confidence.
Starting the First Class
• Arrive early. Students will trickle in, and you can establish a rapport by asking them who they are, why they are taking the class, and how things are going.
• When it’s time to begin, make sure students are in the right section. Introduce yourself with a quick biographical sketch; you’ll seem more accessible and human if students know something about you. Tell them how you got excited about your field, or what you find most compelling about the subject.
• Have students introduce themselves or each other.
• Discuss the course objectives and expectations. Tell them about assignments, exams, grading, class procedures, and policies on attendance, missed section policy, and due dates. What can students expect from you? Will you read drafts of papers? Will you hold review sessions? Let students know you are receptive to suggestions and criticisms.
• Have a mini-discussion or review (and preview) if time permits, to give students a sense of what your sections will be like. One good way of beginning is to review the highlights of that week’s lectures.
• Try to stay after class a few minutes to answer any questions or concerns students have.
On Nervousness: Some Thoughts and Strategies
• Expect to be worried or nervous. Your anxiety indicates that you care about what you’re undertaking and want it to go well. Students may also be nervous, so don’t worry if the first class session is silent or uncomfortable.
• Breathe deeply, and speak slowly.
• Prepare thoroughly, and be confident of your competence. Outline the main points you need to get through, prepare more questions than you need.
• Act confident. Concentrate on the ideas you want to get through, not on your own nervousness. Think about your students’ needs, not your own.
• Visualize and practice. Rehearse your first section by visualizing how it will go, or try out your opening introduction on a friend.
• Don’t feel that you have to know all the answers. If you don’t know, don’t hedge your response; it’s usually obvious that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Admit you don’t know, and then promise to find out the answer, suggest a reference, refer the question back to the class, or ask the student to find out and report back the next week.
• Keep spirits high. Humor helps, and a grim atmosphere won’t make anyone feel better.
Content provided with permission from Teaching Commons at Stanford University with minor logistical alterations.