After you have identified the kind of teaching assistantship you have been assigned, it is important to consider to whom you are responsible. The following section outlines your role and responsibility to your students, to your course director, and to the university. A description of your relationship with each of these entities follows. For more detailed information see our International TA (ITA) Handbook.
Your Role and Responsibility to your Course Director (CD)
As a TA, you will be working with a professor or course director to help administer a course to undergraduates. Course directors are responsible for preparing the course and all of its components, including a course outline, readings, assignments, lectures, and exams. They should provide you with free copies of the all the course materials. Your CD should outline the purpose of the course and your role in it. Sometimes the CD will leave it up to you to determine how you want to deal with the readings, and how to structure your lessons with students, but it should be made clear what the CD would like your time with students to be for.
To help you in communicating with your Course Director, the following resources are useful:
TA CD Relationship Questionnaire – This is a questionnaire that you and your CD fill out simultaneously and then use to start a conversation about your role and responsibilities.
TA CD Relationship Answers – Instead of distributing the above questionnaire, the following document provides suggestions of questions to ask corresponding to each of the topics in the questionnaire.
It is the joint responsibility of the course director and the TA to avoid overwork. To fulfill your workload requirements of 135 hours (half TAship) or 270 hours (full TAship), you may be asked to lead/facilitate tutorials or labs, attend lectures, mark assignments, invigilate and mark examinations etc.
To manage your allocated workload requirements, it is critical that you and your course director meet to decide how you will fulfill your hours. If the course director forgets to call this meeting within a week or two of the start of classes, just remind him or her. At this meeting, you will be given a workshop workload form that contains a breakdown of the hours you should spend on each task, including preparation, teaching, grading, attending lectures, and holding office hours. The total should add up to no more than your TAship which will be either 135 hours or 270 hours. While it is the responsibility of the course director to make sure that you are not being overworked, it is your responsibility to track accurately your hours. Make your supervisor aware of potential overwork as soon as you realize it is becoming a problem so you can jointly come up with an alternate plan.
Your Role and Responsibility to your Students
As previously mentioned TAs play a vital role in undergraduate teaching at York University. You are not only introducing students to your subject matter, but for many you represent student’s first experience at the university. This not only gives you a lot of power, but also a lot of responsibility. Chances are you will be teaching a diverse group of students who vary in cultural background, and educational experience. Some students may also be new to Canada and to York. You’re most important role and responsibility to your students is to deliver quality teaching, but what exactly does this mean?
While there are many ways to teach effectively and there is no one-size fits all approach to quality teaching, but here are a few important things to consider.
Quality teaching seeks to:
- establish a positive learning environment
- motivate student engagement
- demonstrate knowledge of and enthusiasm for the subject
matter and your teaching
- provide challenges
- respond to students’ learning needs, concerns, and opinions
- fairly evaluate student learning
- make yourself available and approachable to students
The TA/Student Relationship
Managing Student Expectations and Setting Ground Rules: What should you expect from your students and what should your students expect from you? If you are used to a more formal teaching situation, you may find some students at York do not fit your expectations. Certain behaviours that may be classified as rude in your native culture may be more acceptable in Canada. While some cultures view asking questions or voicing disagreements with the instructor as a sign of disrespect; these are common student behaviours in the Canadian classroom. Other student behaviours such as sleeping during class or causing distractions while someone else is speaking are not appropriate in this learning context. In such cases it is up to your discretion on how you decided to handle such behaviors. Do note that singling students out in class can back¬fire. Consider laying out detailed ground rules and expectations with your students the first day of class. If you observe behaviours you feel are affecting other students’ ability to learn, it is up to you to enforce the rules and expectations you have established. Canadian students tend to prefer and in some cases have come to expect interactivity in the classroom. This means the TA should be prepared to engage in creative teaching techniques, which go beyond the once standard one-sided lecture. As the instructor, you have the power to facilitate a safe and inclusive learning environment; however, it is important to acknowledge the implicit power dynamics that exist between instructor and student and at times between students and their peers.
Anticipate your classroom will be diverse across gender, ethnicity and sexual preference. In celebration of such diversity, your classroom can evolve into a dynamic learning environment, but it can also become a room filled with uncertainty, and conflict. As educators, we have a duty to promote a classroom space that that is safe and accepting of difference across gender/race and sexuality. All members of the classroom space, (CDs, TAs, and students alike) share the right and responsibility for creating a safe and inclusive learning environment, free from harassment, exclusion, and intimidation. How can you prepare for this?
Consider the following questions
- What are your own biases and stereotypes?
- What is your own background?
- Are you sensitive to issues regarding different cultures, sexual preferences, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds?
While one cannot expect to leave one’s identity at the door, it is important to have a level of awareness about all the issues that you will certainly confront at a campus as diverse as York.
- qualifiers which reinforce racial stereotypes
- assumptions that all members of racial groups are the same, or even similar
- ethnic clichés
- racist/ethno-centrist jokes
- patronizing behaviour or tokenism by race, including expecting students of non-European ancestry to respond for their entire ethno-racial group
- avoidance of eye contact with students of non-European ancestry relating a students’ academic difficulties with her/his ethno-racial background
- using a “colour-code” to describe or interpret the actions of student
- an acknowledgment of the presence of racial diversity in your classroom taking responsibility for managing/monitoring ethnic and racial interactions
- ground rules for mutual respect in the classroom choosing language that does not reinforce bias
- giving equal respect to all races and presenting a balanced representation in visual aids and other media
- choosing texts and print media that avoid racial discrimination and stereotyping
- expanding your horizon by including contributions from non- traditional scholars
- acknowledging and respecting all of your students’ accents being patient with students whose first language is not English
- students to relate their learning to their personal experience
Your Role and Responsibility to York University
While it may seem obvious that all TAs have a role and responsibility to the course director and to the students, it is important to also consider your role and responsibility to the university. As a TA, you are required to familiarize yourself with university resources and policies and to maintain these university policies throughout your contract with the university. That said, it can be challenging for TAs and in particular ITAs to become familiar with and implement all the university policies pertinent to their teaching assistantship. The following section provides links to some of the university policies you should be aware of in relation to your teaching assistantship. This is not an exhaustive list. Be sure to verifying anything that you are unsure of with your course director and our department/faculty staff.
- Important University Sessional Dates
- York University’s Grading Structure
- Academic Accommodation with Students with Disabilities
- Religious Accommodation
- Code of Students Rights and Responsibilities
- Senate Policy on Academic Dishonesty
- Student Records Policy on Access to Records and Protection of Privacy