As new faculty, part of your responsibilities may involve working with TAs for one or more of your courses. This chapter is meant to help you establish and maintain a strong professional relationship with the Teaching Assistants you will be working with. We will review the existing professional standards around TAs at UBC, provide a few strategies for structuring the working relationship, and address a few frequently asked questions and concerns.
You can find out more about TA rights and responsibilities on campus by reviewing the Collective Agreement negotiated between the University and the TA Union. The document is available online at: http://www.cupe2278.ca/
There are a few key points that are worth paying close attention to as an instructor working with TAs.
TAs are classified according to 4 types, each with different responsibilities and pay rates. It is important that you know whether your TA is a GTA (graduate TA), a UTA (undergraduate TA) or a Marker, as these positions can have different responsibilities associated with them:
As an instructor, it is especially important that markers not be assigned anything other than objective, answer-key type marking assignments. It can also be helpful to know whether your TA is working with their peers (if they are a UTA working in an undergrad class, for example).
TAs are assigned a specific number of hours to work per term, and there are some constraints on how their time can be used during the term. A Full TA-ship is 384 hours, or 192 hours per term. These 192 hours include 8 hours of paid vacation, and 6 hours of paid sick leave per term. This amounts to an average of 12 hours of work per week. TA-ships can also be fractional (0.5 TA-ship, 0.25 TA-ship), in which case vacation and sick leave are proportionally reduced.
Any work the TA does for a course is included in the calculation of hours worked. This includes class preparation, attending lectures, training, marking, leading tutorials, and meeting with students and the instructor. Once the number of hours for the term has been met, the TA must either be paid for additional hours, or no longer be required to work. If a TA takes sick leave, it is not their responsibility to find a replacement.
TAs cannot be required to work during times that overlap with scheduled course work, nor within 24 hours of the TA’s own examinations, including comprehensive exams or a dissertation defense.
All TAs must receive a job description, which includes the course number and title, required qualifications, the general nature of duties, and the estimated hours of work allocated for each duty. You should include all of the work that the TA will be doing for the course – including things like lecture attendance (if required) and meetings with the instructor, reading assignments, grading, office hours, etc. This document can be a helpful tool for you to frame the TA-Instructor relationship, by specifically spelling out expectations and ensuring that TAs are working an appropriate amount of time on appropriate tasks. A few important questions for you to consider in generating the job description include:
Providing a clear job description with well-defined duties can help you to set expectations, and can help in developing a successful relationship. You can also use it to signal to the TA a clear understanding of the time commitment that will be expected – especially when time commitments are uneven. While TAs should expect an average of 12 hours per week (for a full TA-ship), this time may be distributed in vastly different ways. It is not uncommon for a TA’s workload to have more demanding time commitments after major exams or papers, and less at other times. Knowing this ahead of time can help the TA to plan appropriately around his or her own coursework.
Reviewing course duties is also an opportunity for you to offer your TA additional support and mentoring. TAs may need guidance for tasks such as marking, leading tutorials or labs – especially of they are new to TAing. While there are resources available to TAs on campus to help with these tasks (see below), as an instructor, you will be able to give immediate guidance that suits the needs and expectations of your course.
After you have generated a job description and discussed it with your TA, there are a few additional things that can be done to help maintain a good working relationship:
Framing the TA relationship with a clear job description and an early face-to-face meeting where mutual expectations are made clear and understood by both parties can do a great deal to avoid difficulties in the working relationship. However, in some cases, you may encounter a TA who is not performing their duties as expected. When possible, you should try to resolve these difficulties through discussion, clarification of expected standards, and perhaps providing additional support where appropriate. However, when this does not work, it may become necessary to appeal to formal structures to address non-performance issues.
When possible, you should try to work with the TA to come to a satisfactory conclusion to any non-performance issue. Sometimes, non-performance issues are the result of miscommunication or a misunderstanding around job criteria or the work associated with those criteria. If there is a performance issue, it is usually best to discuss the challenge with the TA directly. A few questions and considerations to keep in mind are:
When offering feedback to your TA, it can be helpful to frame it in terms of things that you would like or prefer that they do, rather than criticism of what they are doing. In this way, improvement can be managed as a co-operative task and as a part of your mentoring relationship with the TA. Eg. “How can we allocate time so that marked assignments are returned within two weeks?,” rather than “You haven’t been returning marked assignments quickly enough.” Approaching feedback in a constructive way is usually much more successful in bringing about change, rather than triggering defensive or resistant responses.
Should informal, directive feedback be insufficient to address nonperformance or other issues, there are formal reprimand and disciplinary procedures in place, as outlined in the TA Union contract. A formal reprimand is a written expression of dissatisfaction with some aspect of a TA’s job performance. A reprimand is attached to the TA’s file for 2 years under ordinary circumstances (unless it becomes part of a disciplinary action).
There are numerous professional development opportunities for TA training on campus at UBC. Many departments have instituted internal TA training workshops and/or peer mentoring that are available to new or experienced Teaching Assistants, funded through the Office of the Vice Provost. Departments lacking programs are invited to apply for funding, and assistance in developing programs can be found at the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT).
The Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology also provides workshops and seminars for graduate students who would like to improve their teaching skills. The Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW) and Presentation Skills Workshop (PSW) are available to all graduate students at UBC for no cost. CTLT also offers peer coaching and shorter 3-hour seminars for graduate students on a number of teaching and learning related topics.
For more information, please visit CTLT’s website: http://www.ctlt.ubc.ca
For Graduate Student Programming and TA Training info: http://ctlt.ubc.ca/programs/graduate-student-ta-programs/