Good Characteristics of a Teaching Assistant

Written by art corvelay
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Good Characteristics of a Teaching Assistant
Many universities hire teaching assistants. (college's building image by Leonid Tarassishin from

Teaching assistants, also known as TAs, are typically graduate doctoral students assigned to assist a tenured professor. Teaching assistants have a variety of responsibilities depending on the institution where she works. For example, one teaching assistant may be responsible for leading a discussion section that meets once a week, while another may be responsible for simply taking attendance each class period. Most teaching assistants, however, take part in some, if not all, grading responsibilities of a course.

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Organization is an important characteristic for any good teaching assistant. According to their 2003 study "Students evaluating professors: Style over substance?," Ramani Durvasula, a professor at California State University in Los Angeles, and then doctoral candidate Reynolds Watkins wrote that the single most important factor that students valued in teaching evaluations was organisation.

Derek A. Webb, a political science doctoral student at the University of Notre Dame, pointed out in 2005 that organisation may be even more important for teaching assistants. The reason is that professors may be given some leeway by students because they hold authority. However, students are likely to judge a teaching assistant negatively if they are unorganised because they lack the authority of a professor.

Availability and Approachability

Availability is an important characteristic for a good teaching assistant because it shows students and the professor that the teaching assistant is willing to go above and beyond the job description. Teaching assistants who make themselves available for student questions and discussions are more likely to be positively viewed, according to Webb. Furthermore, teaching assistants who are not only available, but also approachable will likely be viewed positively.

Adaptability and Flexibility

Another important characteristic of teaching assistant is being adaptable in all teaching situations. A good teaching assistant is able to analyse and assess the needs of a course and adapt to those needs. For example, one professor may need a teaching assistant to take over and provide lectures for the course, while another may need a teaching assistant to stay after class to answer student questions. Both situations require the teaching assistant to be adaptable and flexible, even if the job description doesn't outline specific activities.

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