Successful TA Virtues

SUCCESSFUL-TA VIRTUES

As a teaching assistant, you form the heart of the general chemistry program at the University of Connecticut.  The quality of the program is highly dependent upon how well you do your job.  You will work in close contact with the students, and thus can most directly influence their performance in this course. It is extremely important therefore, that you take this responsibility seriously and do the best job possible.

Support as a teaching assistant in this department is not an entitlement; hence this support can be withdrawn at any time if you do not discharge your duties well.  Below are some specific traits that we think a good TA must have.  (See below as to how your performance will be assessed.):

  • Be punctual
    • If the students perceive that time is not important to you, they will arrive later and later for their classes. Do not rely on classroom clocks.  Wear a watch.
  • Be courteous
    • Your students deserve the same amount of courtesy that you would give your superiors or your friends.  This means that you obey the common rules of courtesy, i.e., do not interrupt, say excuse me, etc.
    •  The instructors who use the room after you deserve your courtesy too.  That means that you should erase the whiteboard at the end of the period.  You also should give the next instructor time to get organized.  That means you and your students should leave the room at least 5 minutes before the hour is over.
  • Be well groomed
    • Dress casually but professionally. Show, by your appearance, that you care about yourself, the class and your role as instructor.  Being well groomed also means following the rules of good hygiene practiced in the United States. (See below for rules about proper laboratory attire.)
  • Be prepared
    • You must have all the homework done when you come to the staff meeting.  It is a good idea to have a notebook where you write the solutions on one side and write suggestions on how to teach and talk about the problems on the other side.
  • Be enthusiastic
    • Project a positive attitude and treat your students as the talented people that they are.  Encourage them to live up to their potential.  Don’t be negative or cynical.
  • Be sensitive and sympathetic
    • Your students may be insecure, nervous, worried and/or overwhelmed at times.  Empathize with them. Don’t go overboard by trying to be “one of the guys”.  You need to be in control of the class at all times without flaunting your authority or appearing dictatorial. Students’ attitudes and motivations are constantly changing with the student, the time or both.  Be aware of this and try to use it to your advantage.
  • Be honest
    • When a question arises for which you do not know the answer, say “I don’t know” and find the answer before the next quiz session.  Don’t try to bluff.  You will look bad and, worse, the student will get incorrect information.
    • If you are an international TA and a question is spoken too fast for you to understand, or a student uses unfamiliar words, ask for your students’ help.  They will feel good about doing something for you, and it will save you the embarrassment of having your students believe that you do not know chemistry, when, in fact, it is the English that is giving you trouble.
  • Be approachable
    •  Students are usually rather timid about approaching their professors even during office hours.  They may be better able to relate to you since you are closer to them in age.  Do not treat the students as if they are a bother or a waste of your time.  Remember: they are paying your salary.
  • Be discreet
    • You may not like the text, lab book, or system that is used for the course, but don’t tell the students that.  If you destroy the faith of the students in the learning materials and procedures that they have available to them, you will seriously undermine the morale of your section.  You are welcome (even encouraged) to be critical, but tell the person running the course — not the students.
  • Do not be afraid of asking questions
    • You may have many questions with regard to the course content or how to teach.  Never be afraid of seeking answers from the course instructor, your supervisor, or a senior TA.  Check out the teaching resources at http://www.ossa.uconn.edu/facultystaff.html