4.3. What do I do if...?

What if I have a TAing question and I don't know whom to ask?

If it's course specific, ask the instructor, or other TAs. If it's a general TA question,

  • look through the information on the TA web page,
  • ask Liz Freppert; if she cannot answer it she will refer it to the Graduate TA Supervisor, or whomever else might be able to answer it.

What if I'm unsure what my TA duties are?

Since TA duties differ from class to class and from university to university, exactly what TAs are expected to do is a common question, particularly among new TAs. The best thing to do is to discuss this with the course instructor --- perhaps using the TA Responsibility Form --- and with other TAs. In most large classes that have a number of TAs, at least one TA has TAed the class previously.

What if I don't know all the material for a class I'm assigned to TA?

Because of the dynamic nature of Computer Science as well as the shortage of qualified TAs for certain classes, TAs sometimes find they are not familiar with all aspects of a course they are assigned. In this case,

  • ask other TAs --- often they can tell you what you need to know or point you towards relevant resources,
  • discuss the situation with the instructor --- if they know far enough in advance they may be able to distribute the TA work so that each TA is most concerned with areas that he or she is most knowledgeable about,
  • budget extra time to learn more about the material.

What do I do if I encounter cheating in the class I'm TAing?

See the Ethical Issues for TAs page.

What if I'm not sure whether a suspicious incident is cheating or not?

If you are not sure what constitutes cheating, discuss this with the instructor and other TAs. Certain activities (such as collaboration on assignments) may or may not be permissible in the class you are TAing. It is your responsibility to know what is normative in general (e.g., all TAs should know what the University of Minnesota considers plagiarism), and the instructor's responsibility to clarify any grey areas or special rules.

If you notice suspicious activity and are not sure if it is cheating or not, gather any relevant evidence and discuss it with the instructor if you think there's a likelihood that it is.

What do I do about student complaints?

This is a difficult question since there are so many possible situations. For example, students may complain to TAs about specific grading, the class in general, things external to the class, etc.

A few pieces of advice:

  • Be professional in your communication with students. Talk respectfully to and about students. Do not delay inordinately in answering e-mail. Grade in a timely fashion, etc.
  • Listen respectfully to students. Even if you ultimately do not agree with what the student requests, often the student will be satisfied if they feel you have heard their concern and have evaluated it fairly.
  • Be honest.
  • If you and a student have a disagreement, try to resolve it satisfactorily between yourselves before asking the instructor to intervene. However, if you and the student absolutely cannot resolve the issue, or if you're unsure about how to handle a situation with a difficult student, ask other TAs or the instructor for advice.
  • If a student voices a concern about another TA or the instructor, be realistic about what you can and cannot do. For example, unless you are the head TA for a class, you probably should not arbitrate disagreements between the student and another TA.
  • If there are any recurrent or widespread complaints, judge whether additional or alternative action is useful. If, for example, half the class questions the grading on an exam, it might be more efficient to have the instructor address this in class than to deal with each complaint individually.
  • Center for Educational Innovation is available for consultations on any TA-related topic.

What do I do if a student tells me they are having serious out-of-class problems?

Students sometime bring up serious out-of-class problems. If a student comes to you with such a problem you can contact University Counseling and Consulting Services.

What if I have disagreements with another TA, or with the course instructor?

This is another difficult one. Here are a few scattered thoughts on this topic:

  • Many disagreements are the result of poor planning, differing expectations, or poor communication. For this reason it's a good idea for the instructor and TAs to have a clear understanding of what each person's responsibility is, and to communicate with each other regularly. A number of classes, particularly those with a number of TAs, hold weekly meetings.
  • If you have a disagreement with an instructor or other TA, try to discuss it with them. Most instructors and TAs are amenable to discussing disagreements if the disagreement is reasonable and presented in a professional way.
  • Center for Educational Innovation is available for consultations on any TA-related topic.
  • If there is a serious problem that you are unable to resolve by any other means, contact the Graduate TA Supervisor.

What if I don't feel like I'm doing a good job TAing? or: What do I do if the evaluations of my performance in the course are disappointing?

Poor performance and/or evaluations can be disheartening, especially if you've worked particularly hard. Some steps to take:

  • If you are not doing so already, take active steps to improve your TAing --- read articles on what makes a good TA, ask students who are known to be good TAs for advice, etc.
  • If you feel comfortable doing so, ask the instructor how you could improve.
  • If you are not too far along in the course, and if you think it would be useful, use the Early Feedback Forms to get input from students,
  • If you have past student evaluations, look at the detailed sections and choose a few specific items to work on,
  • Check with the Center for Educational Innovation. They are available for individual consultations, and hold various workshops throughout the year.