UW Graduate School

Memo 14: Departmental Responsibilities Regarding Instruction by TAs

Ensuring the quality of instruction offered by UW Teaching Assistants is not solely the responsibility of individual TAs, but also involves responsibilities and activities at the levels of the department, the school or college, the Graduate School, and the university.

This document describes and delineates the minimum responsibilities that the Graduate School expects of departments for supporting and assessing instruction by TAs during their first two quarters of teaching, and makes explicit the methods by which TAs and their students can provide their input to these processes.

Departmental Procedures

  1. Training and supervision: In keeping with Executive Order 28, all TAs are to receive appropriate training and close faculty supervision while performing their duties. Each department’s provisions for TA training and supervision are to be reviewed as part of its periodic Academic Program Review.
  2. For TAs assigned to labs, studios, study centers, quiz sections, and those who teach their own courses, supervision is to include at least one observation by supervising faculty as early as possible during each of the TA’s first two quarters of teaching at UW. The purpose of this observation is to confirm that TAs are teaching content competently, to provide guidance regarding content, presentation, and student involvement, and to assess TAs’ needs for further training or assistance. Criteria for teaching competence and procedures for observations are to be determined by each department.
  3. If the observer concludes that the TA is not meeting departmental criteria for teaching competence, then supervising faculty will work with the TA to determine a specific, written plan for addressing the TA’s teaching difficulties. To the extent that funding permits, possible options include:
  4. Increase training, observation, and/or supervision by a faculty member or experienced TA mentor.
    • Refer the TA to the Center for Teaching and Learning for instructional consultations.
    • Employ a more experienced teacher to team teach with the TA.
    • In exceptional cases where other responses cannot adequately address the issues that have been identified, re-assign the TA to another role. Acquire a more experienced teacher to fill the role from which the TA was removed, and provide additional training to prepare the TA for re-assignment during subsequent quarters.

Supervising faculty should follow up on the specific plan during that quarter, and at the end of the quarter, should confirm the extent to which the plan was followed and what results were achieved.

Informing TAs of Departmental Procedures

  1. Criteria for teaching competence and procedures for observations are to be determined by each department and are to be communicated to the TA prior to the observation, at the beginning of the quarter. Departments are also to specify procedures by which TAs can give input to the observation process, and if they choose, appeal the outcomes of any decisions based on observations.
  2. Reports to TAs in their first two quarters of teaching: By the end of the fourth week of the following quarter, departments will provide the TA with a report summarizing their performance of TA duties. Departments are to use their own forms for these reports. Departments which don’t already have a form for this purpose may refer to Form A as one example of a form which may be used or adapted for an individual TA.

Informing Students How to Communicate Concerns about TAs

  • In all classes in which TAs are assigned teaching duties1, departments are to make explicit to students a policy regarding their responsibilities and specific procedures to follow if they are having trouble working with or understanding their TAs. Departments should also specify the methods by which the policy will be communicated to students (for example, announced by the professor, included on the syllabus, posted in the department and on the web, etc.).The following example illustrates one way a department might choose to communicate with students, bearing in mind the importance of encouraging students to approach the TA first:
    If you have any concerns about the class or your TA, please see the TA about these concerns as soon as possible. If you are not comfortable talking with the TA or not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact (immediate supervisor) in (room number) (building), or at (phone or e-mail).
    If you are still not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact (department chair) in (room number) (building) or at (phone or e-mail.) You may also contact the Graduate School at G-1 Communications Bldg, by phone at 206.543.5139 or by email at raan@u.washington.edu.
    For your reference, these procedures are posted on the (name of department) Bulletin Board, next to the Departmental Office in (room number) (building).
  • It is up to departments to determine to what extent their communication to students addresses only instruction by TAs, instruction by both TAs and faculty, or broader issues in addition to instruction.

The role of the Graduate School

  1. Academic Program Review. Each department’s provisions for TA training and supervision are to be reviewed as part of its periodic Academic Program Review, which is conducted by the Graduate School.
  2. The Graduate School is here to help:
    • The Graduate School’s Center for Teaching and Learning offers many services to help departments support the needs of their new TAs: CIDR organizes UW’s annual TA Conference , staffs the International TA program, offers confidential consultation services to TAs, faculty, and departments, and provides a whole host of web-based resources related to teaching.
    • You may also contact Rebecca Aanerud, Assistant Vice Provost & Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, the Graduate School, by phone at 206.543.5139 or by e-mail at raan@u.washington.edu.

1 Teaching duties are defined as interactions with students over instructional issues. Examples of teaching duties include holding office hours, reviewing tests or paper scores/evaluations with students, answering questions in special centers such as those focused on assistance with writing, math, chemistry, etc., tutoring, conducting labs, leading discussions, assisting students to solve problem sets, commenting on studio work, or lecturing.

Revised: January 2000; November 2010