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Faculty/TA Teaching Teams

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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TAs enter the "Colleague-in-Training" stage of development when they gain experience and confidence in their authority as teachers by emulating their faculty role models. They are now open to new ideas and ready to employ creative approaches to teaching (p.11). TAs can best learn these new ideas and creative approaches by observing faculty model effective and innovative teaching practices and noting their overall approach and attitude toward teaching in their discipline.


The posting below looks at the different stages of teaching assistant development and the implications for TA faculty relations. It appeared in the newsletter: Speaking of Teaching, Center for Teaching and Learning, Stanford University - Fall 2007, Vol. 17, No.1, produced by the Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Building Bridges Between Research and Undergraduate Teaching

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


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Faculty/TA Teaching Teams


Faculty and graduate students bring to the challenge of teaching together diverse ranges of experience and differing levels of development as teachers and mentors. Regular and open communication between faculty and TAs is the most effective way, of course, of ensuring that diversity or differences in experience and development contribute to a successful collaboration. But there are also several different roles that faculty

may want to be aware of and be willing to play in order to most effectively supervise their TAs and nurture them in the dual process of becoming teachers and responsible representatives of their disciplines.

Several different stages of TA development-Senior Learners, Colleagues-in-Training, and Junior Colleagues-and accompanying faculty roles have been identified by Jody Nyquist and Donald Wulff in Working Effectively With Graduate Assistants (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1996).

The nuances of the development stages and faculty roles will be discussed in the following paragraphs. This newsletter further outlines how teaching teams can benefit from discussions about the kind of learning that

takes place in their course. Finally, linguistics graduate students compile practical suggestions about "What TAs Like."

Senior Learners

TAs on the first level of pedagogical development can be seen as "Senior Learners" since their competence up to that point has been demonstrated more by their excellence as students than by their experience as teachers. They are in survival mode and are concerned about whether their students will like them. They tend to rely on faculty and colleagues for directions (p.20).

What faculty can do.

When faced with the prospect of teaching with TAs on the first level of development, faculty may have to cultivate and draw upon management skills that are not generally part of the preparation of university professors. How best to motivate, coordinate, and monitor a TA's progress and performance are skills that require advance planning and conscientious follow through. If faculty can establish a relationship with, and set expectations for, their TAs early on-well before the beginning of the term-TAs will then be much more willing and able to rise to the occasion. With enough advance notice, the TAs will have the chance to coordinate the needs of the faculty with the demands of their other commitments (p.7). In this "Manager" role, faculty should try to make their expectations as clear and detailed as possible, while remaining aware of the needs of the TAs (p.8). Outline grading guidelines or rubrics, and discuss grading practices and what kind of feedback motivates students to learn in your course. Grade the first assignment of the course together. Observe new TAs and give them frequent feedback on their teaching.

What TAs can do.

Be pro-active and ask questions to clarify what your duties are, what is expected of you, and how you should do it. Find out as much as possible about the students you will be teaching. Talk with your peers about your

challenges and ask them for helpful tips. Don't reinvent the wheel-build on what has worked for others. Ask for constructive feedback on your teaching. Attend a CTL practice teaching session that will enable you to teach a small segment of a lesson in front of other TAs who will give you constructive feedback. Request a free midquarter small group evaluation from CTL that will help you assess how your teaching is going. Attend departmental or CTL teaching workshops. (For more details about CTL's resources see:



TAs enter the "Colleague-in-Training" stage of development when they gain experience and confidence in their authority as teachers by emulating their faculty role models. They are now open to new ideas and ready to employ creative approaches to teaching (p.11). TAs can best learn these new ideas and creative approaches by observing faculty model effective and innovative teaching practices and noting their overall approach and attitude toward teaching in their discipline.

What faculty can do.

Nyquist and Wulff suggest that faculty should try to model behavior that they want their TAs to emulate and use a variety of teaching methods to reflect a "broader conceptualization" of the material (p.12). It is also particularly helpful if faculty can take the time to demonstrate their teaching methodology to TAs. Share with them the ways you think about teaching certain material, designing assignments, and planning lectures or demonstrations (p.13). Explain why you teach the way you teach, and how your pedagogical choices further the goals of your course. At this stage, the TAs are able to assume more responsibility. Involve them in designing an activity, an assignment, or a paper prompt. Invite them to prepare part or all of a lecture and discuss their performance with them afterward. This way, the TAs can reflect on their own teaching choices and understand those of the faculty more clearly.

What TAs can do.

Now that you have mastered the basic teaching skills, expand your teaching experience and engage in a more conceptual discussion about teaching practices and goals. Look for the bigger picture as you figure out what your professional goals are. Ask to observe your professors in the classroom and find out why faculty are teaching the way they are. Offer to help create assignments, help prepare a lecture, or assume responsibility for other elements of the course. Invite your professor to observe your teaching and ask her/him to write up a report about it. Reflect on your teaching and take notes on it during the course or immediately after the course. What worked and why? How did the students react to your teaching strategies? Keep all teaching documents you design because you might need them later, if you teach in this course again, decide to write a

teaching statement, put a teaching portfolio together, or design your own course.

Junior Colleagues

At the third stage of development, a TA is ready to be treated more like a peer, to learn about collegial roles and collaboration, and to contribute their own insights to the structuring of the course (13). This stage of development calls for TAs to be treated as "decision makers" who have their own style of teaching and views on pedagogical methodology (p.14).

What faculty can do.

The most experienced TAs need less supervision and more peer-level dialogue, and might be ready as well for the chance to lecture and assist in designing a course and formulating course policies (p.5). Discuss with them how your research informs your teaching. Show them how your course fits in the departmental or university-wide curriculum. Introduce them to the specific discourse of teaching in your field, including professional organizations that support teaching. Initiate a pedagogy lunch with colleagues and graduate students.

What TAs can do.

Offer to assist your professor in designing the course, writing assignments and exams, and preparing course materials early in the process. Volunteer to lecture and ask for feedback on your lecture. Practice your

lecture with an Oral Communication consultant at the Speaking Center. Have yourself videorecorded and request a consultation with a CTL consultant about your performance. Find out how the course you will be teaching fits in the departmental curriculum. If you intend to pursue an academic career, ask colleagues who recently landed an academic position how to best prepare yourself for the teaching responsibilities of a future faculty position. Attend advanced CTL workshops on professional topics, such as course design, lecturing, jump starting an academic career, or preparing a teaching portfolio.

By taking these several developmental stages and the accompanying faculty roles into account, TAs and faculty alike can take more conscious and supportive roles in making the Faculty/TA teaching partnership as effective and mutually beneficial as possible.

Further Readings

(The books are available at CTL's library.)

Curzan, Anne and Lisa Damour. First Day to Final Grade. A Graduate Student's Guide to Teaching. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000.

Marincovich, Michele, Jack Prostko, and Frederic Stout, eds. The Professional Development of Graduate Teaching Assistants. Bolton: Anker, 1998.

Nyquist, Jody D. and Donald H. Wulff. Working Effectively with Graduate Assistants. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 1996.

Reis, Richard M. Tomorrow's Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and Engineering. New York: IEEE Press, 1997.

Ross, Catherine and Jane Dumphy. Strategies for Teaching Assistant and International Teaching Assistant Development. Bolton: Anker, 2007.

What's Working in TA Training 2006. (A biennial CTL publication, also availble at

If you are interested in learning more on how CTL can support your TA

training program or graduate student professional development, please


Marcelo Clerici-Arias (Social Sciences),

Mariatte Denman (Humanities),

Robyn Wright Dunbar (Sciences and Engineering),

For more information on CTL TA training resources see: