What is Expected of Graduate Student Teachers
For our purposes, 'TA' refers to graduate student teachers, tutorial leaders and lab assistants. As a TA you can expect to be a real asset to a department and to benefit greatly from the teaching experience. As a TA you are expected to be up-to-date and knowledgeable in your discipline, and an effective role model for undergraduate students.
You are a Representative of the University
As a representative of the University, you are expected to maintain the standards of the University. This includes following all guidelines and rules established by the University. If you disagree with the policies of the University or the professor you assist, you are obliged to discuss these privately with the professor or an appropriate University administrator rather than doing so in front of students or simply refusing to follow the University guidelines.
You are a Representative of Your Department
As a TA you will work as a member of a department at the University of Saskatchewan and are obliged to follow the policies and regulations within the department and meet its standards and expectations. Make sure you understand all departmental requirements before the first class.
You serve as an Intermediary
As a TA you are expected to help reinforce to students the learning outcomes established by the professor you support, and you can also provide feedback to the professor about how students are responding to the learning experience.
Professionalism as a Graduate Student Teacher or Assistant
You are an instructor as you will be teaching undergraduate students and/or marking student work. As an instructor it is important that you maintain an appropriate student/instructor relationship and act as a mentor to students. You must be fair and honest and do nothing to exploit your position of power over students. All students must be treated with equal respect.
TAs and Human Rights: Can you see the silence?
North American studies have repeatedly shown that women and individuals belonging to minority groups speak, on average, 30% or less of the time in classroom and lab situations, even when they make up 50% or more of the groups concerned. Studies also show that both female and male instructors call on female students less frequently and are less inclined to make eye contact with them, or to engage in dialogue with them, or to acknowledge the significance of their contributions.
You must be aware of these potential problems and counteract them. For instance, in labs, you can take steps to implement an equal gender division of the technical or manual parts of the lab procedure. In seminar and group discussion contexts, you may try going around the table calling on all students to express their views on a particular topic or question; or, in cases where students are organized into small groups, you can ensure that the role of group leader rotates regularly.
Why do words matter?
You can act as an important role model for students in using language that respects and includes individuals of different genders, races, cultures, physical capacities, and sexual orientations. Using such language is not a matter of “political correctness”; it is a matter of justice and fairness. Studies in a range of fields (linguistics, law, sociology, and psychology, among others) have incontrovertibly shown, for example, terms like “man” and the masculine pronoun “he” are not interpreted as including women, even when that may be the speaker’s intent. Likewise, terms such as “lame” (as in “that’s a lame theory”) may perpetuate prejudices and cause offence where it might have been avoided.
The Teaching Assistant/Professor Relationship
Generally, you will be working under the direction of a professor in your department who will determine the content and methods used for your teaching assignments: make sure you understand the professor’s expectations. Once you accept your teaching assignment, you share responsibility for the class.
Most problems with professors can be settled directly by discussion, but a few cannot. Always approach the professor first; if you cannot come to an understanding and you must go to another authority, inform the professor of your intentions before going to someone else.