Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tips for Teaching Assistants

As a teaching assistant you will be balancing many roles. Not only are you a student, but you are now taking the role of an employee, an expert and representative of your department, a student advisor and role model, and an assistant to your instructor in facilitating learning and knowledge. If this is your first time being a teaching assistant, no need to worry! We have some tips that can help you navigate these roles to both improve your teaching skills and to help you get the most out of your teaching experience.

·         Be clear. It is very important that you communicate clearly and effectively with your students. Be sure they understand what is expected of them, both logistically and academically, to avoid any potential confusion and conflict.
·         Be professional. Remember that your students may be your peers, but it is important to maintain a professional relationship with them, both inside and outside of the classroom. Be friendly and polite when seeing them outside of class, but remember that it is inappropriate to develop social relationships with them beyond that.
·         Be prepared. Ensure you have a strong grasp on the material and are prepared to answer any questions or direct students towards the proper resources if necessary. Also, if your teaching assistantship requires you facilitate seminars or deliver lectures, be sure to practice, practice, practice in advance! Stand in front of a mirror and present the material to reduce feelings of nervousness when presenting to students.
·         Be fair, honest and flexible. Do not pick favourites. In all your dealings with students, be sure to treat everyone equally – it is important for students to feel they are all receiving the same treatment.
·         Stick to the course material. Don’t preach or otherwise strongly impose your viewpoints. Your job is to convey course material, not your personal opinions.
·         Don’t make exceptions to the course rules without first consulting the instructor. If you bend the rules for one student, word can spread quickly and other students will expect to be granted the same exceptions.
·         Manage your time. Be sure to strike a balance between your personal and professional life. The workload of a teaching assistant can be very onerous, however be sure to budget your time effectively between your role as a teaching assistant, as a student, and as an individual with a personal life.
·         Ask for help. It is important for you to have communication between yourself and the professor, therefore do not hesitate to ask for clarification whenever necessary. Ensure you have a clear understanding of your role and responsibilities. It is can also be helpful to talk to experienced TAs for tips and/or troubleshooting advice.

Information on Teaching Assistant consultations, workshops, and resources for graduate students at the University of Guelph can be found at the following link:

This post was adapted from The Graduate Student Guide to Teaching at Yale University: Becoming Teachers (, Education Portal’s Student/Teacher: Tips for Being a Great TA (, UBC’s A Guide to Effective Practices for Teaching Assistants (, and Philip J. Guo’s Tips for First-Time Teaching Assistants (

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Goal Setting

Whether in your personal, academic or professional life goal setting can be a beneficial way to ensure you stay motivated to complete a task. Goal setting goes hand-in hand with time management, as goals outline the tasks that need to be accomplished and often reveal the priority and schedule for a given project. The beginning of a new semester is a great time to set some goals for the upcoming months. It is important to be SMART about setting goals that are not too daunting or vague.  

Specific  - A smart goal will answer the questions who?, what?, where?, when? , why?, which?, and how?  This ensures there is no ambiguity how the goal will be achieved. 

Measureable – A smart goal will establish clear criteria to measure progress toward goal attainment.  This will help you stay on track and know when your goal is accomplished. 

Attainable – A smart goal must be important to you so it will encourage you to consider all of your abilities, attitudes, opportunities, and resources which will allow you to reach your goal.  Goals are made attainable by breaking the goal into steps and pairing each step with capacities for completion. 

Realistic – A smart goal must be an objective that you are willing and able to work toward.  Even high goals can be realistic if you plan steps, allow enough time, utilize capacities, and represents substantial progress.

Timely – A smart goal should be given a time frame.  This allows for the planning to take real precedence in your life and schedule.  The end goal should definitely be given a time constraint but each step can be given a time line as well to motivate and progress toward goal achievement. 

Keep track of where you are in your goal progress.  It is okay to review your goals and make changes to the SMART outline you have created for a goal, just don’t use goal review as an excuse for not making progress. 

Long-term goals are often more broad, but by breaking them down into more short term steps or goals, the SMART goal setting technique can be used to achieve even your biggest projects and aspirations! 

This content has been adapted from Top Achievement - Creating S.M.A.R.T. Goals: , Grad Share -  Job Searching and Goal Setting the SMART Way:, and the University of Guelph Learning Services Guide to Time Management:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Time Management

After a hopefully relaxing holiday break, the work load is likely ramping up again for another semester. While your research may be continuous, other necessities including teaching, courses, and semester deadlines are likely back on your radar as the winter semester begins. Balancing all the demands of grad school with personal life (family, exercise, volunteering, hobbies, social, etc.) can be a daunting task. Start off this semester on track by brushing up on your time management skills.  
  1. The breakdown: It is near impossible to manage your time if you don’t know what projects or activities require attention.  Make a list of everything you need to do.  Break each project into smaller tasks which will seem more manageable, you will have an easier time getting started and accomplishing the task in an efficient and logical manner.
  2. Prioritize: Using your list, decide which projects and tasks need to be completed first.  From this prioritization of your list, you can create a long-term schedule.  This will reveal not only when projects need to be completed but when smaller tasks should be accomplished to stay on schedule for projects due in the future.
  3. Schedule: Schedule each day in blocks for work on a variety of tasks.  Take into consideration which tasks are priorities and that you are only able to concentrate effectively on one task for a limited amount of time.  One scheduling strategy that works for some students is Fixed-Schedule Productivity wherein school is treated as a job and you commit to staying on task from 8:30am-5:00pm, the remainder of the day is then open for personal activities.  Another strategy commonly used is the Pomodoro Technique where 25 minutes of work are separated by 3 minute breaks, longer 10-15 minute breaks are allowed every 4 cycles.  Everyone has personal preferences for scheduling, but find a tactic that works for you and stick to it!
  4. Be reasonable: When allotting time, be realistic how long something will take, if you estimated incorrectly adjust accordingly for next time.  Leave time for personal activities and breaks, however find a time of day and environment where you will be most productive (minimize distractions).  Learn to say no when you just don’t have time to commit to something extra. Don’t get down on yourself if one day wasn’t as productive as you hoped, this will lead stress and less productivity: simply adjust your schedule, stay positive, and refocus for tomorrow.
Finding time management strategies that are effective for you is integral to enjoying your time at grad school!

Information on time management consultations, workshops, and resources for graduate students at the University of Guelph can be found at the following link:

This post was adapted from Michigan State University Graduate School Time Management & Productivity: , the University of Guelph Learning Services Guide for Time Management:, and the Pomodoro Technique: