Course mechanics

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1 Scheduling

We find that TA hiring is not finalized until two weeks into the semester. We also find that attendance is essential: one of the main goals of the TA training class is to provide exposure to new ideas. We thus schedule the course as follows:

Each week we have several course meetings, all of which cover the same material. TAs are required to attend one of them. The first meeting is week three of the semester.

2 Content

The content for the TA training course has been developed over time, and will continue to be developed in the future. To give us freedom to explore and expand on topic, the course is run with a set of required sessions, which we have established contain material useful for all TAs, and a set of optional courses, where we try out new material or present topics only some TAs will find interesting. We require 100% attendance at the required sessions and attendance in some specified subset of the optional sessions (typically 50%).

We do not take attendance; instead, we have the TAs report what they attended. As I tell our TAs when they ask about this, if we can’t trust our TAs, getting correct attendance numbers here is the least of our worries.

Because we require attendance, we provide make-up sessions for TAs with legitimate need to miss a session. We usually hold these on an ad-hoc basis as needed in the faculty member’s office.

3 Credit, Pay, Grades, etc.

We arrange the course with the following grades:

3.1 Work for Credit

Attendance comes to only about half an hour a week; the paper may add a few more hours; so to get up to the 3 hours per week per credit hour minimum required by federal law, the remaining assignment is to be a TA, which is the rationale for the supervising faculty member grade.

Given this TA-for-credit model, it is important to know your school or department’s policy on giving pay and credit for the same work. For whatever reason, our department’s policy is undergraduate students cannot get paid for the same work they get credit for, but graduate students can. Whatever your policy, you need to understand it enough to explain it.

In the event that pay and credit may not overlap, you need to identify how many hours a week are for credit (probably either 2 or 3) so that TAs hired for more than that number of hours can get paid for the rest. And you’ll need to establish how TAs log hours: do they enter all hours and payroll deducts the credited hours, or do they only log the paid hours? If only paid hours, does it matter which hours they call paid vs credited?

3.2 Paper

We require students to write a paper mostly because we want to read the papers. We don’t grade on style or insight: an honest response to the prompt is all we seek. We have them pick from three prompts:

There is no magic to these prompts, and some TAs stretch the limits of a prompt in order to share what they want to say even if it is not directly a response to any of these, but we find the papers quite valuable.