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Center for Teaching and Learning

Advice from experienced international TAs

We asked experienced international TAs to respond to the following question:
“Now that you have taught for several quarters, what advice would you give to a new TA?”  

Below are their comments arranged in four categories.

Before class…

  • I reviewed the material I was going to teach before the class. Since English is not my native language, sometimes I have difficult time to find proper words to express myself, so I go through the material and allow my brain to work it in the background.”  –Talip Kasirga, Physics
  • I planned out the sections in details — notes, diagrams, problems and even jokes! I paid more attention to how I taught a concept, rather than how much… making sure there was sufficient time for the students to ask me questions.”  –Bijetri Bose, Economics
  • “Something that is very ‘everyday’ info for some, might not be that way for a new TA. Some of the things you do only once per quarter, and it is easy to “forget”, so write a TO DO list and hang it somewhere you can see it.”  –Kristi Tinkus, Estonian
  • Plan some activities or games to help your teaching, it could make students like the course and be more involving.”  –Anonymous
  • Work out a grading sheet before grading.  For final reports or papers, it’s better to list all the things you expect to see in their reports and estimate how much points should be distributed to each section. It will help you to grade reports quickly.”  –Anonymous

During class…

  • “Do exercises and only provide/discuss the solution in the quiz sections so that students have to come to the section to get the answers. I learnt it from other TAs.”  –You Ren, Statistics
  • Being organized helps me handle the class easier, and makes it a lot easier for the students to follow.”  –Hossein Ghasemkhani, Business
  • Be confident. Expect that there will be challenges from the students.
    • Seek advice from your colleagues and supervisors—find someone who are willing to listen.
    • Be explicit about your expectations from the students and check with them whether they are with you (especially when you think your English/accent can be a problem).”  –Xuan Zheng, English
  • “Students like to ask questions about the material.  Be patient with them.  Try to understand their questions, and try to answer them the best way you can.”  –Anonymous
  • “I learned to make my expectations very clear.  I use grading sheets attached to assignments or tests that show how many points were assigned for each part of the assignment or test.”  –Anonymous
  • “It’s not helpful for students to solve a problem fast and to ask them if they understood it.  I found it more helpful to solve the problem with them step by step and to ask them questions about the problem in between.”  –Anonymous
  • “It is really important to convince your students in the first day that your language ability is not a barrier which prevents them from learning.”  –Anonymous

Show students you are there to help them…

  • “I realized learning to be a good teacher is like learning to behave like a liked person: some basic interpersonal skills can improve your teaching effects greatly. For instance, remember students’ names from the very beginning. Show the students that you care about them, and you care whether they learn from your class. Chat with them during office hours. Encourage them when they are uncertain. Respecting students like this would earn respects from them, too.”  –Xuan Zheng, English
  • “Try to make the students feel that you want to help them.  For example, encourage them to come see you during your office hours.  But be careful …  Give yourself enough time to work on your own graduate studies.”  –Anonymous
  • Remember students’ first names. It will help you establish a good relationship with your students and a good classroom atmosphere.”  –Anonymous
  • “I found that it is really helpful to get feedback from the students in the middle of the quarter. I got great suggestions from CTL on how to make improvements based on the feedback. The students will love any change you make according to their requests.  It is a great interaction between TAs and students.”
    Anonymous
  • If it is possible, attend the main lecture connected with your quiz section.  When the students see you there, they can approach you with questions.”  –Anonymous
  • Face the students whenever you can.”  –Anonymous

Relax…

  • “Be confident. Show your professionalism or knowledge from the first class.”  –Ain Chung, Psychology
  • Be confident and be honest. Confidence is important for students to trust your knowledge and act on your feedback. At the same time, your honesty should allow them to find you approachable. Also, the more questions you allow them to ask, the better your teaching ability gets.”  –Shweta Grampurohit, Art
  • Don’t get self-conscious about your language or about the potential fact that you will miss some of the things not being an American student. Undergrads here are really interested in getting to know about what you will bring to your section as an international student. Use it as an advantage.”  –Zeynep Seviner, International Studies
  • “The first time to be an international TA might sound scary, but you’ll find everything goes just fine when time goes by. So, don’t put too much pressure on yourself before it begins.”  –Anonymous
  • Trust yourself. UW already showed you that it trusts you.  Although your academic excellence undoubtedly factored into your being chosen both as a graduate student and TA, the university also values, and values it highly, the richness (cultural, ethical, professional, etc.) that you will bring to campus — not just your department. Trust UW as you should trust yourself.”  –Anonymous
  • Try to be relaxed, to smile, to make the students feel more comfortable.  It is important to make the students feel comfortable in class and to let them know that they can ask questions.  In the beginning they might be shy or afraid to ask any questions.”  –Anonymous
  • Don’t take students’ reactions personally.  If you open your heart to the students, there is no difference between American and Asian students.  If the students trust you, they will probably study very hard.” -Anonymous
  • Be confident. And you sometimes have to be very patient with the students.”  –Anonymous
  • “In the beginning the students found it difficult to understand me.  The best thing I did was to give the students written materials.  … Also speak slowly because the students are unfamiliar with the material and have difficulty following your presentation.”  –Anonymous
  • “I tried to show myself the most eager to help the students, which made it easier for them to ask for it, even through the ‘language barrier’.”  –Anonymous
  • “If you’re not sure on what to do, contact your advisor or your colleagues.”  –Giovanni Dettori, Italian