Whether you are a first-time TA, are TAing a new class, or are a seasoned pro, the first couple weeks of teaching can be a bit daunting. We’ve all been there, but don’t worry, you’re going to be great! I myself have TAed for three different courses and was a Senior Graduate Coordinator for a 500-person biology course, so I thought I would put together a few words of wisdom now that a new semester has begun:
1. Be prepared
I think being prepared is a rule of thumb for all facets of life, but it’s especially true for teaching. Spending just a few hours preparing for your lab or class that you are a TA for will make your life so much easier! Make sure you understand everything that your students will be doing or learning, concentrating not only on the small details but also the big picture. Trust me, if you’re doing a lab, at least one student will ask you what the purpose of it is. Also, if your students start asking you questions about what they’re doing and you don’t know the answers, it’s going to look pretty bad. However, we aren’t super geniuses, so if you don’t know the answer to a question, tell your students you will find out and get back to them (and then actually do it).
Again, another rule of thumb for being successful, but it’s always good to give examples for certain situations. Whether you’re one of many TAs for a lab course or working with a professor in a class, communicate with your superiors if you find anything confusing. It’s better to clarify than to guess (and end up guessing wrong!). Also, this should go without saying, but communicate effectively with your students, too! If you want the formatting of a lab report to be a certain way, tell them. Finally, if there are other TAs in the course you are working with, communicate with them, especially if they are seasoned pros. Chances are they know where all of the mistakes will happen and can help you to prepare yourself and your students! If you’re a first-time TA, I would recommend observing other, more experienced TAs to get an idea of how things are done most effectively.
3. Have a good attitude
As a graduate student, most of us would rather be working on our thesis research so that we can graduate instead of spending our time TAing. I get that. But, if you’re going to do something, you should do it well, and that goes for TAing, too. If you come into the lab or class every week with a sour attitude, that’s going to trickle down to your students. Try to be enthusiastic (without going over the top) and circulate throughout the room and talk to students about what they’re doing. This will also give you a good idea of how well your students are understanding the material.