What should I do if…

1 … student questions are answered in assignment write-up

Have them read the write-up aloud to you. One of two things will happen:

  • You’ll hear a misunderstanding in their voice as they read it, and be able to clarify that misunderstanding; or
  • They’ll learn that they should read the write-ups and there’s no faster way to learn what they say.

2 … students insist on doing things the wrong way

First, tell them they are doing so and express your concerns about they difficulties they are creating for themselves.

Then, if they insist, do your best to teach them around that. It is not your place to force them to do things in a particular way (though it may be your place to grade them poorly if they don’t).

3 … students seem not to have attended class or read the textbook

This happens a lot, even if students were in attendance, because there are so many distractors that can cause them to miss something. It can also be misdiagnosed if they were present and attentive but didn’t understand what was being taught.

Because of the risk of misdiagnosis, don’t simply tell them to review the material.

Also, don’t tell them exactly where their question is answered or you may become their way of skipping most of the material and only taking in the parts you tell them to look at.

You may

  • Teach them the material (if you have time). Don’t do this if there are other students waiting for help.

  • How was this explained in lecture?

    This sets the correct expectation (that students were in lecture); gives them a chance to clarify a misdiagnosis and explain things they don’t understand; and lets you detect if students didn’t get it and then direct them to do so.

4 … students seem to be missing prerequisite material

Always do three things:

  1. Tell them this is what is happening.

    Students missing prereqs can feel stupid because the other students are understanding class and they are not. Help them understand that this is missing context and preparation, not cognitive impairment.

  2. Pick one of

    • Teach it to them — but note that this is not what we hired you to do, so we don’t expect any particular ability and expect you to focus on those who are working in course material first

    • Send them to a source where they can learn it — but only if you know that source actually has the topic in question. Don’t send them to Wikipedia unless you know the Wikipedia article is a good way to learn the topic.

    • Tell them to review it on their own — this isn’t much help to them, but does communicate that they need it.

  3. Inform the instructor of the course about this student and missing knowledge

    Instructors have access to resources TAs don’t and may be able to help the student catch up on what they missed. They also learn that enough students are missing a prereq that it is worth adjusting their curriculum to include lessons on it.