Working with Undergraduate Teaching Assistants

Undergraduate Teaching Assistants (UTAs) are regularly employed at UVM to support faculty. Research shows that the presence of UTAs in the classroom has significant benefits, particularly related to the near-peer relationships that UTAs can leverage. When the UTA role is structured well, they can model positive academic behaviors, be a conduit between students and faculty about curricular experiences, and provide mentorship (especially in large classes when it’s challenging for the faculty member to get to know all students).

UTAs are also juggling busy academic loads, gaining skills as emerging professionals, and have less content expertise than graduate students. As a result, training and support for UTAs is critical for their success.

UTAs at UVM are offered a range of compensation for their work, from hourly pay to earned credit (or both). When UTAs are earning credit, they also enroll in a 1-3 cr. course (usually taught by the faculty member for whom they are TAing) during which they can learn more about teaching and reflect on their experiences.

Hiring Students at UVM

Information about hiring students can be found on the UVM Student Employment Office’s Supervisor Toolkit.

Potential UTA Responsibilities

UTAs may perform some or all of the following tasks for a course:

Administrative responsibilities

  • Take attendance
  • Coordinate classroom technology
  • Proctor exams
  • Grade student work (if anything is subjective, provide & train on detailed rubric use)
  • Write suggested exam questions and/or review faculty-written exam questions
  • Blackboard maintenance (uploading documents, entering grades, etc.)
  • Classroom management (connected to classroom expectations)

Mentoring responsibilities

  • Name games
  • 10-minute meetings with each of their students to check in and develop 1 concrete “next step”
  • Follow-up with students who are struggling from a place of empathy and referral to campus resources
  • Communicate regularly with students (Blackboard forum/announcements, social media, texts, emails, etc.)

Supplemental Instruction Responsibilities

  • Lead film or reading discussions
  • Lead study and review sessions
  • Deliver academic skills mini-workshops/tips
  • Tutor students one-on-one or in groups
  • Facilitate classroom activities and mid-lecture mini-discussions
  • “Ask the TA” Blackboard Discussion Forum
  • Guide online discussions

Feedback responsibilities

  • Reflect back to the professor what students are struggling with in the course
  • Evaluate mid-semester feedback and making suggestions for the 2nd half of class to the faculty

Expectations, Training, and Ongoing Support

When you hire UTAs, it is important to clearly outline their forthcoming work expectations. In addition to hiring paperwork, we recommend that you present and discuss a memorandum of understanding stating your expectations. Some important points to include are:

  • Specific work tasks
  • Numbers of hours per week
  • Frequency and dates of scheduled check-in meetings
  • Methods of communication
  • Turnaround time on tasks (such as grading, forum facilitation, email response)

The scope and depth of the up-front training you’ll want to provide will depend on the role of the UTAs. Some departments offer multi-day trainings before the semester begins while other departments rely on an initial weekly meeting to provide additional training. Carefully think about what your UTAs will need to be successful in the first 2-3 weeks of the semester and design training to address these needs early.

Throughout the semester, ongoing face-to-face meetings with your UTAs is also tremendously important. During these meetings, you will want to review upcoming course content, hear feedback from your UTAs, provide time for UTAs to share challenges and successes, and allow practice for upcoming UTA tasks (for instance, if they will be leading an activity in class, make sure they’ve experienced the activity and have had a chance to facilitate it).

CTL Support

The CTL offers training workshops for UTAs on topics such as

  • Discussion facilitation
  • Building effective peer-teaching relationships
  • Blackboard course building
  • Grading
  • Exam review activities

To request support for your UTAs, please email jennifer.garrett-ostermiller@uvm.edu (email link).