Preparing Students to Teach

Supervising Teaching Assistants

One way to mentor is to provide graduate students opportunities to try aspects of professional roles. Teaching is one such component, and serving as a teaching assistant provides experience with that professional role. When students serve as teaching assistants, they learn skills that will aid them in their careers. Becoming a teaching assistant can be daunting, however, and teaching assistants are most successful if they have opportunities for preparation and supervision. Thus, the experience is made more valuable if it is supplemented with relevant mentoring. Here are some guides to mentoring student teaching assistants:

▶ Supervisors of Teaching Assistants​​​​​​​
Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching
This site covers topics that are pertinent to working with teaching assistants, including (a) handling issues of responsibility/power/authority; (b) helping TAs develop a sense of independence; (c) evaluating the work of TAs; (d) managing relationships; (e) helping TAs learn how to balance the pressures and time demands of a graduate career; (f) conveying expectations; and (g) training TAs/ dealing with issues of teaching style vs strategy.

▶ Working with Teaching Assistants: A Guide for Instructors 
University of California/Santa Cruz Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning
This very comprehensive site on mentoring has a section titled Working with Teaching Assistants: A Guide for Instructors.  The 5 page document provides suggestions for working with TAs, including information on providing mentorship and opportunities for feedback and reflection.

 Teaching Assistants Supervisor’s Handbook
Florida State University Program for Instructional Excellence
This Teaching Assistant Supervisor’s Handbook covers routine paperwork and administrative issues (e.g., job descriptions and contracts), but it also includes information on providing support and feedback. It discusses the importance of mentoring assistants in teaching and giving them opportunities to acquire and practice new skills.

▶ Supervising and Mentoring Graduate Teaching Assistants: A Faculty Guide
University of Delaware
This guide to supervising and mentoring graduate teaching assistants emphasizes that the faculty relationship with TAs can be seen as an apprenticeship focused on socialization into the teaching profession. In addition to serving as supervisors, faculty serve as mentors to graduate students aspiring to teach. In this context, serving as a mentor includes providing opportunities for TAs to observe, discuss, and practice various aspects of teaching. The guide provides examples of ways to implement this mentoring relationship.

▶ Teaching Assistants
Georgetown University Teaching Commons
This guide contains information on forming and maintaining a productive working relationship with a teaching assistant. It includes general guidelines as well as sections on mentoring TAs and helping them learn their roles.

Teaching Tips for Teaching Assistants 

Serving as a graduate teaching assistant can be a highly rewarding experience as well as an opportunity to try out a potential future role.  Below are teaching tips and pieces of advice related to being a teaching assistant. They have to do with the teaching part of the role, not the administrative responsibilities, and they assume that a TA will be working in conjunction with a course instructor, who is primarily responsible for the course. These tips focus on on-ground teaching, but some can also apply to online teaching. The page aimed at New Faculty, under Resources for Teaching, also provides relevant information.

  • Communicate enthusiasm about teaching and the material being covered. If you enjoy the topic, chances are good that the students will too. Making Teaching Engaging
  • Be responsible. Do not be late or miss class. Respond to student emails and return work in a timely manner.
  • Establish a clear goal for each session you teach. Goals should be related to course learning objectives and planned assessment of students. They should focus on ensuring students understand course materials and reading assignments. Developing Student Learning Objectives. Student Assessment
  • Be prepared. Spend time before each session planning the content you want to cover, the activities you expect to use, and specific questions you want to ask. Developing or Revising a Course
  • Use the first day of class not only to provide information about the course, but also to set the tone. Begin to present or discuss course content to capture students’ interest, spark their curiosity, and build their enthusiasm. Also, use the time to model your teaching philosophy and begin to build rapport. First Day of Class. Using Icebreakers
  • Be clear about your expectations and don’t make major changes as the semester/term proceeds.
  • Encourage students to ask questions and treat every question as a worthwhile question. Watch for signs of confusion and check with students for the source of their confusion.
  • Remember that you don’t have to know all the answers. Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know something if a student asks a tough question. Find the answer after class and then follow up during the next session.
  • Introduce variety in learning activities, including incorporating active learning strategies. Avoid giving long lectures and use technology to supplement those you do give. Promoting Active Learning. Preparing and Presenting Lectures. Using PowerPoint 
  • Pay attention to pacing. Prepare more material than you need – as much as an extra 10 to 15 minutes – in case your class runs short, but also leave time for questions. Do not rush but do not run over your time limit.
  • In discussions, give students time to answer questions. Wait about 10 second before repeating the question, so students have time to consider it and come up with a thoughtful answer. Ask students to expand on what they have said. Don’t talk too much; rather, serve as a moderator who clarifies and summarizes points and refocuses the discussion if needed. Facilitating Class Discussions
  • Use inclusive teaching techniques and be sensitive to implicit bias and microaggressions that might occur in the class. Inclusive Teaching. Implicit Bias. Microaggressions in the Classroom.
  • Create a sense of community among students (e.g., assign shared projects and encourage participation by all students). Deal with disruptive students immediately. Cultivating a Sense of Belonging and Building Rapport. Managing Disruptive Student Behavior.
  • Create an open and inclusive class environment so students feel welcome to express their ideas. Develop ground rules for participation and discussion. Creating a Positive Class Climate. Managing Disruptive Student Behavior. Facilitating Difficult Dialogues
  • Connect with students. Learn their names and something about their interests and preparation. Provide some information about yourself. Be empathic and respectful but remember to maintain professional boundaries; don’t try to become friends with your students.
  • Be approachable and accessible to students who seek help. Be prepared for students’ requests for exceptions; have policies and stick to them so everyone is treated fairly. Office Hours. Balancing Structure and Flexibility
  • Give students regular constructive feedback on their progress so they know what to do to improve their performance. Don’t be condescending or sarcastic to students who make mistakes. Providing Effective Feedback
  • Know what to do when you suspect a student of cheating or committing plagiarism. It is often helpful to seek consultation before acting. Addressing Plagiarism 
  • Be aware of and act according to ethical standards (e.g., avoid dual relationships) and legal requirements (e.g., honor student confidentiality). Be fair to all students and don’t play favorites.
  • Check out the classroom and the equipment you plan to use before the first day of class.
  • Expect that things won’t always go as planned; don’t be discouraged by these bad days. Try to learn from them and understanding what went wrong. Reflective Teaching
  • Know about resources available for students who need help.
  • Provide students with opportunities to give you feedback (e.g., midterm evaluations). Evaluate the feedback and decide how to use it to improve your teaching. Developing and Implementing Midterm Feedback
  • Ask for help from other teaching assistants, instructors, or the Center for Teaching Excellence.


University of Waterloo Psychology
Handbook for Teaching Assistants in Psychology

University of Toronto
Teaching Assistant Training Program: Getting Started

Georgia State University Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning
10 Tips for First – Time Teaching Assistants

Academic Positions Career Advice
10 Tips for First Time Teaching Assistants

Ohio University College of Arts and Sciences
First Semester as a TA Survival Guide

Columbia University Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Teaching Center
The Fundamentals of College & University Teaching

Resources for Teaching Assistants

Several universities have published guides for graduate students that include information related to teaching.