Working as a Teaching Assistant

By Camille-Mary Sharp

For many PhD students at the iSchool, working as a teaching assistant is often understood as something we have to do in order to receive our complete funding stipend from the Faculty. However, I want to acknowledge that my personal experience as a TA at the iSchool has been much more than that, that it in fact has been a highlight of my time in the PhD program. Therefore, while I may be a biased source, in what follows I provide a brief overview of what being a TA at the iSchool entails in hopes of helping first-time TAs navigate their experience.

Getting a TAship

The process of getting a TAship depends on your position in the iSchool. For example, because most PhD students are required to TA as part of their funding package, the administration typically reaches out to us regarding contracts, to ensure our required hours are met. However, folks who don’t require TA hours as part of their funding, or wish to work additional hours, will need to actively look and apply for positions. A good place to start is the CUPE 3902 Unit 1 Job Board. I also make sure to frequently consult the iSchool job postings page, as well as those of departments with overlapping disciplines, such as UTM’s CCIT and UTSC’s Department of Arts, Culture and Media.

Preparing to TA

UofT offers a wide range of TA training workshops through the Teaching Assistant Training Program (TATP), several of which have been very helpful to me over my years as a TA. Each September, TATP organizes “TA Week”, which consists of an intensive TA workshop schedule over the course of 4 days. This year, my favourite workshops included “Fostering Equity and Inclusion in Teaching & Learning”, “Writing & Workshopping your Land Acknowledgement”, and “Online Student Engagement”. Recordings, slide decks, and other useful resources from these and other workshops are available on the TA Week page on Quercus.

Get to know our union; get to know your rights!

As a TA at UofT, you are a member of CUPE 3902 Unit 1 (also known as The Folks Who Have Your Back). Our collective agreement highlights crucial elements of TA work, from paid training to health benefits, workplace safety, leaves of absence, and guidelines for responding to discrimination and harassment. The union also exists to support you if you have a workplace grievance and offers many important funds such as the Sexual and Domestic Violence Survivors Fund and the Trans Fund. I strongly recommend that new TAs review their collective agreement and the Members’ Manual, as well as reach out to CUPE local officers and staff with any questions or issues.

Making the best of it

Your experience TAing will often differ from course to course, depending on subject and instructor. In my experience, communicating with your course instructor as early as possible to discuss your strong suits, possible knowledge gaps, and TA duties/schedule is essential to fostering a good working relationship with them while ensuring an optimal learning environment for students. For example, I’ve sometimes been assigned a TA position for a course I was no expert in! Being transparent with the instructor early on allowed me to incorporate preparation and learning into my paid duties. Lastly, have fun with it! TAing can be incredibly rewarding: course instructors appreciate the help, students appreciate an accessible mediator between themselves and the instructor, and you can develop your own pedagogical practice and subject expertise!

Feature image source.

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