Working with the Teaching Team
Teaching teams in Moody College can consist of teaching assistants, assistant instructors, Undergraduate Learning Assistants (ULAs), and/or undergraduate graders.
Incorporating inclusive practices into your work with the teaching team not only benefits current learners in your classroom, but also helps set up the next generation of inclusive teachers for success. Whether you teach a large lecture course or a smaller lab-based class, here are some best practices for working with TAs, AIs, and ULAs.
- Meeting as a group before the semester starts, and setting up regular meetings during the semester, helps clarify the roles that each teaching team member will play. This is particularly important for ULAs or TAs who may be assisting in a new class for the first time.
- During group meetings, set the teaching team up so everyone is in alignment with the course goals. Aim to eliminate guesswork at all stages. What do you expect for grading policies, for leading discussion sections, or for supervising labs? Provide clear expectations and guidelines.
- Providing these clear expectations and instructions allows team members to better plan their time so they can do their best work. Be sure to clarify that all TAs know which students they will be grading, and if they have specific sections of the class to work with.
- Have a clear grading dispute policy in your syllabus; for example, let students know how long they have to report a dispute, and what a report entails (written explanation, etc.).
- Noting deadlines for completing grading is extremely important, as this will ensure that students receive their feedback at the same time regardless of who is grading their assignments. If you are working with multiple TAs or AIs, decide who will change the Canvas settings so students do not see grades until all work is scored.
- Use rubrics for all assignments and use the blind grading feature on Canvas. This helps everyone if there are grading disputes. Have graduate students score practice exams or assignments first, and provide your feedback on the scoring.
- Making assignments from previous semesters available for graduate students to refer to as example is also a good practice. Consider creating a Google Drive or UT Box folder for your class, where students can share slides from labs or discussion sections with future TAs/AIs.
- Implementing these class-wide policies instills confidence in undergraduates that they are receiving the same treatment regardless of who is grading them.
- Work with students to decide on a class-wide policy for when teaching team members are available for questions. For example, you can set ‘business hour’ availability, where questions will be answered within typical 9-5 (weekday) business hours. Establishing class-wide policies allows students—and you!—to step away from certain class responsibilities over the weekend.
- Having a class-wide policy can be especially helpful for ULAs, who are closer in age to the students in class and may not feel as comfortable turning down requests for help.
- In large classes with many teaching team members, you can establish one person as a “lead” for question-answering.
- You can also set up a designated online space, such as a Canvas discussion board or a Discord server, for urgent questions or for FAQs. Keep adding to this throughout the semester as questions come in.
- How do you best communicate? Do you prefer texts, emails, phone calls? Let your graduate students know- and ask them their own preferences. Some classes have weekly phone call check-ins, while others communicate via email or have regular in-person meetings.
- Communicate clearly about when everyone’s working hours are- some people are early risers, while others are night owls. Knowing when people work best helps to set up what the class-wide availability is.
- Gender, race, and religious identity are factors that affect student perceptions of graduate TAs and AIs. Additionally, many TAs have only recently graduated themselves, and may be uncomfortable grading undergraduates so close to them in age.
- Regular meetings with TAs and AIs provide space to address these potential barriers and provide support for graduate students.
- Be aware of the individual factors that may impact how graduate students can succeed as TAs and AIs. Studies show, for example, that native speakers of English can have negative attitudes towards teaching assistants who are non-native English speakers, and that international students may not be accustomed to American classroom practices (Kang, Rubin & Lindemann, 2015). As an instructor, you can take steps to mitigate potential harm and help graduate students learn about a new setting.
- Many international graduate students come from teacher-centric and lecture-heavy learning communities, in which it is rare for students to interrupt a lecture with questions or to challenge a grade (Meadows et al, 2015). Acknowledging during your early meetings that such practices are more common in American university settings is helpful.
- Similarly, model inclusive teaching for native speakers of English and for American students who are on the teaching team. Create an expectation of cultural difference (Dimitrov et al, 2014) by acknowledging that, for example, people may participate in class in different ways. Build opportunities for all to participate.
- Model trauma-informed grading practices. Trauma-informed pedagogy refers to understanding “how violence, victimization, and other traumatic experiences may have figured in the lives of the individuals involved and [applying] that understanding to the provision of services and the design of systems so that they accommodate the needs and vulnerabilities of trauma survivors” (Carello & Butler, 2014). Trauma-informed grading, for example, centers transparency about all aspects of the grading process so as to build trust.
- Help graduate students learn to spot students who may be in distress and/or need additional campus resources. The difference between poor academic performance and a distressed student is not always immediately clear.
- Demonstrate inclusive communicative practices in the classrooms; for example, clearly break down jargon or technical terms for newcomers or students from other disciplines. Invite questions from both students and teaching team members.
CATE thanks Dr. Madeleine Holland for her valuable input on these recommendations.
Dimitrov, N., Dawson, D. L., Olsen, K., & Meadows, K. N. (2014). Developing the intercultural competence of graduate students. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 44(3), 86.
George Mwangi, C. A., Changamire, N., & Mosselson, J. (2019). An intersectional understanding of African international graduate students’ experiences in US higher education. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 12(1), 52.
Meadows, K. N., Olsen, K. C., Dimitrov, N., & Dawson, D. L. (2015). Evaluating the differential impact of teaching assistant training programs on international graduate student teaching. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 45(3), 34-55.