Overview of Teaching and Related Responsibilities

The following is a transcript of the "Overview of Teaching and Related Responsibilities " multimedia presentation available here.

Welcome to the overview of the TA Orientation created by the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. I’m Stephanie Anderson, a doctoral student in Instructional Design interning with the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at Northern Illinois University.


This presentation will provide NIU Teaching Assistants with an overview of teaching and related responsibilities. While the responsibilities of a Teaching Assistant vary greatly, it will be very easy to tailor the information included in this session to your specific roles and needs. Because the goal of this presentation is to provide a quick overview, only basic details have been provided. For additional information and greater detail on the topics covered in this tutorial, please check our Program Schedule for program offerings geared towards your role as a Teaching Assistant.


The focus of this presentation is on the six main elements of effective instruction. These elements are: knowing your responsibilities; preparing to teach; delivering instruction; managing the classroom; assessing student learning, and finally, knowing the services available for your students and yourself.

Knowing Your Responsibilities

There are two main types of TA responsibilities – primary instructor and teaching support. TAs serving as a primary instructor of a course will handle all aspects of teaching including everything from planning to content delivery to assessment of student learning. Those in a teaching support role will assist faculty supervisors with a course or courses and could be responsible for tasks such as tutoring, grading or lab supervision. To ensure a complete understanding of your responsibilities as a TA, check with your supervisor.

Preparing to Teach

When preparing to lead or assist with courses, it is imperative that you get acquainted with what the course is all about. This includes checking with your department chair or faculty supervisor for specific information on such things as: the topics to be covered in the course; getting a copy of the syllabus to follow; analyzing the course objectives or learning outcomes; and obtaining a copy of the textbook as well as examples of course sites used in the past. When preparing the syllabus, make sure that you understand the grading policies and requirements for the course including any departmental or accreditation expectations. Use these guidelines in creating your own syllabus or modifying one provided to you. Investing time to become familiar with these items will greatly assist you in properly aligning course activities and assessments to the goals or outcomes of the course.

The first day of class is extremely important because ultimately, it sets the tone for the rest of the semester. Because it is so important, you must have a plan of attack for how the class time should be spent. This includes:

    • Introducing yourself and the course – when introducing yourself, make sure to establish your credibility with students by telling a bit about your background however, do not go overboard as this could intimidate students which certainly is not what you want to do.

    • Tell students a general overview of what they will learn this semester and outline some of the reasons why the course is beneficial.

    • Establish a positive and welcoming tone – creating a positive tone will alleviate some of the stress students experience on the first day of class. Remember that your role is to be their instructor or guide in learning – not their buddy!

    • Explain the course syllabus and policies – when reviewing the syllabus and course policies make sure to point out important aspects such as your contact information, course policies and locations where learning support can be obtained.

    • Clarify the course schedule and major deadlines – the syllabus will include an overview of the tentative course schedule and main deadlines. Make sure to review this with students.

    • Explain that your role is to guide them in their learning process not to do all of their work for them.

    • Point out the campus support services outlined within the syllabus such as the University Writing Center or tutoring options.

  • Make sure to allow plenty of time for students to ask questions or for clarification.

Delivering Instruction

With the first day of class under your belt, it is now time to think about and prepare for the rest of the semester. Commonly TAs are responsible for delivering instruction in the form of class lectures, tutoring, or lab sessions. When developing lessons, first identify the content and consider the audience which you will be instructing. Make a conscious effort to add variety to your teaching style to accommodate the learning styles of your students which typically center around three main categories: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Knowing the learning styles is not enough, you must analyze the delivery options available and determine which would be the best match for the content. Common delivery options include:

  • Lectures – which addresses both the auditory and visual learning styles
  • Group discussions and hands-on activities can, depending upon how they are used, address all of the learning styles
  • Videos – are good for visual and auditory learners
  • Hands-on activities – serve all learning styles to a certain extent

For effective delivery of instruction, it is best to plan each class or lab period, and if time permits – practice, practice, practice. Always ensure alignment between session objectives, content covered, and delivery method used. By investing time in planning a class period, you will be able to liven the classroom up a bit by not lecturing the entire time and instead, enjoy a more engaged environment consisting of alternating between content delivery and activities. To allow students and yourself to monitor student learning, it is also important to make assessment practices a consistent part of each class period. The specifics of assessment will be discussed later in this presentation.

By planning each class session, you can engage students in their learning. For a typical 50 minute class period, you can divide the class time as follows:

    • Provide students a clue as to what your expectations for the session are by introducing the learning outcomes or what students should be able to do by the end of the class. Doing this also sets a clear tone for the progress of the class.

    • After introducing the expected outcomes, transition to about 15-20 minutes of interactive lecture. Creating an interactive lecture can be challenging but always try to pull students into your dialog and avoid the tendency of wanting to stand at the front of the class and be the only one speaking – as this will not engage students.

    • Upon completion of the short lecture, engage students in group discussions or some other activity for 5 minutes covering the new content.

    • Pull the students back in for the rest of your 15-20 minutes of lecture then ask students to reflect on what they have learned in a 1 minute paper.

  • Once students have finished their reflections, re-cap what was covered during the class period, address what should be completed for next class time and leave a bit of time at the end for answering any questions students might have.

Managing Your Classroom

Classroom management is probably one of the biggest challenges instructors commonly face. Developing your classroom management skills is essentially creating a positive learning environment; establishing your credibility as the teacher; ensuring content is covered as planned; encouraging student participation; preventing academic dishonesty; and dealing effectively with difficult students.

The first major hurdle in classroom management is to establish clear classroom policies from the first day of class. Once the guidelines have been established for what is acceptable and unacceptable within your classroom, the second hurdle becomes enforcing the policies fairly and consistently.

It is not enough to just tell students these are the policies so follow them. You must explain exactly what the policies mean, consequences for not following them and the reasons for why they exist. This is especially important in courses where lab safety is a concern. After students have a clear idea of what behavior is expected of them, you must then ensure consistent and fair enforcement of those policies. Enforcing policies can be a daunting task however, if this aspect is avoided, you as the teacher will lose credibility and ultimately more classroom management challenges will arise. Make conscious efforts to treat each student with respect and interact with everyone professionally. This practice also includes listening to student concerns and addressing them as needed. When a situation arises which you are unsure about how to handle, remember that your supervisor or other campus support units are available to assist you in figuring out what to do. By making the expectations for behavior clear from the very beginning, informing students of the consequences for violating those policies, and enforcing the policies consistently and fairly, you can establish a solid framework for creating a positive learning environment.

Assessing Student Learning

Assessment of student learning is a necessary piece to monitor student progress. Proper alignment between course objectives or outcomes and what was covered in the course is necessary for effective and meaningful assessment of learning. When planning for assessment of students’ learning, you should first be aware of the assessment options. Once the assessment strategy has been developed, the assessment activities can be developed and finally implemented throughout the semester as planned. An essential piece to the assessment puzzle is that the expectations and grading procedures must be clearly communicated to students. Generally, performance criteria or rubrics are used to help clarify what is expected and how it will be graded.

Assessment types can be broken down into two main categories – formative and summative. Formative assessments serve as an informal way to encourage students reflection on their learning. Such assessments tend to be considered “low risk” in the students’ eyes and provides you a snapshot of how students are progressing with the content. By sprinkling formative assessments into each class and evaluating the results, you as the instructor, can easily identify gaps in the students’ knowledge and address them before summative evaluation. There are many examples of formative assessment including one-minute papers and use of clickers. Summative assessment serves as a more formal assessment strategy which has higher stakes and aims at summarizing learning up to a particular point. Examples of summative assessment include: unit exams, major projects or papers, final exams, and midterm projects.

One major concern with assessment of students is academic dishonesty. Several practices or tools exist that can help to minimize this problem including: designing assessments that require student performance of a particular task; avoiding the use of the same assignments from semester to semester; creating assessments in which guidelines allow for lots of creativity; and utilizing tools such as SafeAssign to check papers for plagiarism.

If possible, it is also a good idea to provide students with samples of good performance. This practice is especially helpful to ease stress for students for high point items such as projects, case studies, or lab reports. By providing samples, students can clearly see how the materials were graded and gain insight into how their work will be critiqued.

Once the semester has ended and all homework, exams and projects have been graded, it is time to assign final grades. Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined in your syllabus to avoid issues of grade appeals or uncertainty with the scores. Occasionally, you may have students who raise questions about how their work was graded. Listen to their concerns or questions patiently and refer them back to the rubric or performance criteria given to the students prior to assigning the project. Once you take students through the rubric and explained why you graded them the way you did, they will understand how they can improve in the future.

As a TA, you will have access to student information, scores, grades and other confidential information. Make sure to take extra precaution in maintaining confidentiality and follow FERPA policies.

Remember that there is always support available for you or your students. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the support options available on campus and do not hesitate to contact the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, your faculty supervisor or department chair if you have any questions.

For tutoring and supplemental instruction services contact ACCESS. The Disability Resource Center can help with understanding the options available in accommodating students with disabilities. For students having emotional difficulties, the Counseling and Consultation Services should be contacted. As a TA, you have access to your own support for stress management from the Employee Assistance Program. Do not hesitate to contact the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center for any teaching related or technology based questions.

For questions or concerns about academic dishonesty, contact the Office of Student Conduct. The Office of the Ombudsperson is a perfect place in which to obtain advice on various general issues. For scantron or evaluation services, contact the Office of Testing Services. The Writing Center provides one-on-one tutoring and workshops for students which need assistance in writing-related areas. Make sure to not only encourage your students to take advantage of these services but also use them yourself.

We covered a lot of issues within this brief overview. While it may seem a bit overwhelming right now, you can gain more information on your teaching and related responsibilities by attending some of our TA programs scheduled throughout the semester.

For optimal success, remember these three ideas:

  1. Always make sure to familiarize yourself with the content as well as with the teaching process.
  2. Remember plan, plan, plan and practice, practice, practice.
  3. Do not feel as if you are on your own, seek out help or advice as needed.

The information provided in this overview really applies to either of the TA roles and you should tailor the information to your unique roles. Other skills needed for optimal success but not directly addressed in this overview are the need for effective communication and presenting as well as how to integrate technology effectively into your teaching. You can enhance your knowledge of these topics by attending the programs offered by the Center.

Thanks for your efforts and your contributions to the teaching mission of NIU!

Last Updated: 9/10/2014