Experiences, Reflections and Recommendations of a Teaching Assistant in the U.S.

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Invited Paper, Arena Symposium on Teaching Assistants. Journal of Geography of Higher Education




The Teaching Assistant (TA) system operating in the United States has both advantages and disadvantages to graduate students employed as TAs and undergraduates taught by these TAs. The system develops teaching and communication skills and broadens TA capability, understanding and marketability. Discussion and lab sections taught by TAs provide an arena where undergraduates are exposed to everything from simple ideas to difficult ideas that need hands‐on help. However, few quality control procedures are employed to determine prospective TAs. Moreover, TA training is of limited extent and use. TAs either sink or swim; none the less the vast majority do survive and do an excellent job. A number of measures that any university, college or department might employ if they intend to begin employing TAs are recommended: all TAs should attend TA orientation sessions that discuss university‐wide TA issues; departments should also create sessions that specially train TAs in how to teach their respective courses; and departments should develop TA evaluation schemes that quickly identify TA problems.