What to Ask the Instructor
When you get an assignment as a TA or reader, the
first thing to do is get in touch with the instructor of
the course. You will need to find out what the instructor expects you to
do, make sure there aren't any insurmountable scheduling conflicts,
and begin to prepare for your teaching assignment.
In advance — There are some things you can
find out by yourself in advance:
When and where does the class meet?
When and where do the discussion and lab sections
Check these using the on-line schedule of classes
times and rooms often change, and sometimes
as late as the first week of classes.
- Do the lectures or sections conflict with your own classes or other obligations? You may need to make adjustments once you know what your TA duties involve.
How has this instructor (or other instructors) organized
this course in the past?
Most instructors' home pages have links to syllabi
(and sometimes other materials) for the courses they teach. A few minutes
spent looking at these will give you a good outline of the course's
organization (though of course things may change from one quarter to the
Asking the instructor — The questions listed
here apply to a broad range of courses and go into some detail. You shouldn't
expect the instructor to provide absolute, definitive answers to all of
these questions. It's impossible to predict every task that may need
doing during the quarter, and it's important to be flexible as the needs
of the class become clearer over time. Instructors may prefer to let you
resolve some of these issues yourself, or in consultation with other TAs
or readers for the course. Nonetheless, the sooner you get answers to any
of these questions, the better you can plan and prepare and the better you
can balance your teaching responsibilities with your other obligations.
Attending lecture: Do you prefer or require that
I attend the lectures? Will you need me to help set up equipment or demonstrations
for the lectures?
Discussion and lab sections
Which section meeting(s) will I be expected to lead
(if this hasn't already been specified)?
If there are section meetings on the schedule before the
first lecture, do you want me to hold section meetings then?
What do you want students to get out of the section
meetings? Is there new material I should cover; should I give them advice
on the assignments; should I answer questions and give them practice with
the course topics?
How much guidance on the assignments should I give
students in section or individually? How far should I go in leading them
towards a solution?
Shall I take attendance at section meetings? Does
attendance count towards a student's grade?
Student enrollment: Will you need me to take any
role in processing requests of students to add or drop the course (or specific
Office hours and student communication
How many office hours per week would you suggest
Will we have a course mailing list (e.g., through
EEE or Canvas) for sending messages to the class?
Will we have a mail alias for students that will
deliver messages to the instructor and all the TAs?
Will we have a course newsgroup or EEE MessageBoard or Piazza group?
What would you like my role to be with these communications
Would you like me to schedule review sessions for
the midterm or final exam?
Which assignments will I be grading? Will there
be a prepared answer key? What rubric or grading standards should I use;
what should I particularly look for in the solutions? What grading scale
should I use (letter grades, 0 to 5, 0 to 100, ...)?
How will students submit their work (on paper, via Checkmate, via dropbox on EEE or Canvas or Gradescope)?
Who will keep the official record of scores? Shall
I use the EEE or Canvas GradeBook?
How do you want me to handle cases that look like
cheating? Will we be using automated plagiarism detection (see http://www.ics.uci.edu/~kay/checker.html)?
How and when will graded assignments be returned
to students (in section, electronically)? How
quickly do you expect me to grade and return the assignments?
Do you need me to prepare assignments, proofread
assignments in advance, develop test cases, or set up infrastructure for
Will you want me to suggest exam questions, proofread
exams in advance, or prepare exam keys?
If you will need me to make photocopies, or in case
I would like to make copies of materials for my section, what is the photocopier
access code for the class?
Is there a web page for the course? What role will
I have in creating or maintaining it?
How can I get copies of the syllabus and any other
materials you distribute (on paper or electronically)?
Do you have a desk copy of the textbook I can use?
(Check also with the ICS Instructional Support
Manager, Lumen Hwang; she may have copies of texts to check out.)
When are the exams scheduled?
Do you prefer or require that I be present to help
proctor the exams? If so, how much help should I give students who ask
questions during the exam?
Who will grade the exams, and when?
Records and grades
Who will maintain the official records of students'
scores on assignments, exams, and other items?
How should I address questions from students who
want to know how well they're doing in the class or what their probable
grade will be?
Will you expect me to participate in calculating
the final grades? In what ways? At the end of the quarter, by what date
do you expect that I will be finished with my teaching duties?
Do you plan to be out of town during the quarter?
If so, is there something special I should do in your absence? (TAs may also have conferences to attend or qualifying
exams to take. If those plans will conflict with scheduled sections or
grading expectations, the TA must make sure the instructor knows about these
plans and approves of any alternative arrangements. It's not okay just to ask your office mate to cover your section.)
- Can we set up a weekly time to meet
briefly to discuss how the course is going?
More information — Consult these resources
for further information:
- UCI's Electronic Educational Environment
(EEE or E3, http://eee.uci.edu) provides
up-to-date course rosters, automatically maintained class mailing lists,
an on-line gradebook, mid-quarter course evaluations, course discussion
groups, and more. To authorize a TA to use these features, an instructor
must log on to eee.uci.edu with his or her UCInet ID and use the Assistant
Editor feature. The campus is migrating from the locally developed EEE to the commercial product Canvas. More information is available on line.
A wide variety of general teaching issues are addressed on the web site of UCI's Center for Engaged Instruction
(CEI, http://cei.uci.edu/). The
CEI also provides free videotaping and confidential consultation on teaching
quality and teaching techniques.
The ICS Student Affairs Office can answer questions
about degree requirements, prerequisites, enrollment policies, and other
aspects of the undergraduate program.
Other students who have been TAs or readers for the
same course in the past can serve as a valuable informal source of information
If you have a student with difficulties that are
beyond your expertise to address, you may wish to refer the student to the
Learning and Academic Resource Center
(LARC, http://www.larc.uci.edu, for
tutorial assistance, study skills, writing, and time management issues),
the UCI Disability Services Center
for students with learning and other disabilities), or the UCI Counseling Center
for the broad range of personal problems).
- You may wish to check out a TA Guide for ICS 31/32/33 (http://www.ics.uci.edu/~kay/taguide.html),
which is one example of an instructor's attempt to answer some of these
- The ICS TA Advisor, David G. Kay,
is available by Email (email@example.com) and
in 5056 DBH for advice on these and other teaching-related issues.