Back to School Teaching Assistant Tips

AUTHOR: Shawna Thompson

As a new school year begins, many MiNDS students will begin their role as Teaching Assistants (TAs). For many, this might be their first teaching experience, while others may be assigned to new courses to TA with different instructors and a batch of new students. We’ve put together a few tips that will be useful for new and returning TAs.

1) Keep track of TA hours. While this may seem obvious for some, or like a complete waste of time to others, keeping track of hours throughout the semester can prevent headaches at the end of the term. I find recording hours based on the Hours of Work distribution categories makes filling out these forms much easier in following years.

2)  Talk about teaching with other TAs. Discussing tutorial content, marking strategies, and any problems that might come up improves consistency in large classes, saves time, and makes teaching more enjoyable overall. It is always a good idea to have regular meetings with course instructors and interact frequently with students, but good communication with fellow TAs is also important!

3)  Be proactive with office hours. Chris Rowley, who has been a TA for a course outside of his main research interests, recommends having students email you ahead of office hours with what they want help with. This will give you time to prepare so you can be of the most assistance. Don’t be afraid to say you don't know something!

4)  Make use of McMaster’s resources for improving teaching skills. As a leader in developing new pedagogy, McMaster offers many opportunities for professional development in teaching, whether you have a couple of free hours or are interested in taking a course or two.

5)  Check out for online modules on the topics of your choosing, or participate in the Teaching and Learning forum or certificates of completion programs through the MacPherson Institute for Leadership, Innovation, and Excellence in Teaching ( It’s all offered free to current graduate students.

Happy TAing!