Initial Publication Date: October 3, 2014

Working Effectively with Teaching Assistants

These pages were written by Kelsey Bitting (Dept. of Geology, University of Kansas) and Geoff Cook (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego), drawing on discussions and contributions from the 2014 Getting the Most Out of your Introductory Courses workshop.


Teaching assistants (TAs) provide important instructional support in a wide variety of geoscience classes and settings, and are often prominently used in introductory courses. In some courses, TAs have significant autonomy and are responsible for teaching labs (and sometimes lectures) on their own. In other cases, TAs are handed the labs to teach or exams to grade. However, TAs often have a greater amount of interaction with students in the course than faculty do. The quality of these interactions can be crucial to students' academic success, learning gains, and even their interest in pursuing geoscience further (O'Neal et al., 2007 ). Given their significant influence, providing TAs with sufficient preparation and guidance allows departments to maximize opportunities for transformative learning within and beyond the classroom.

These web pages offer resources for departments and individual faculty to maximize the effectiveness and quality of instruction offered by TAs, with a focus on introductory Geoscience courses.

Prepare Teaching Assistants Before they Enter the Classroom

For many students, their first term as a teaching assistant is their first experience teaching at all. Preparing them for the transition from student to teacher is critical. Read about how to train and support teaching assistants as they enter the classroom, and beyond.

Define the Role(s) of Your Teaching Assistants

Teaching assistants can play many different roles in introductory courses, and those roles can build on the strengths of the students as well as the department. Learn more about the possible roles that TAs can play and consider how and if your department could formalize these roles.

Manage and Support Your Teaching Assistants

When you have taught a course many times, it's easy to forget that you may have TAs who are new to the course, the department, or even the university. Learn more about managing and supporting your TAs throughout the term.

Develop a TA Contract

A contract can be a great way to ensure that all parties understand their roles and what is expected. Read more about topics to cover in TA contracts and see example contracts.

Evaluate and Reward Teaching

All students benefit from receiving evaluations of their teaching, and the process allows you to reward outstanding work as well. Get ideas for how to evaluate TAs and how to reward excellent teaching.

Additional Resources