University of Vermont

Center for Teaching and Learning

Working with Undergraduate Teaching Assistants

On this page:
UTA Descriptions
Hiring UTAs
UVM Policies
Work Expectations
CTL Support

Undergraduate Teaching Assistants (UTAs) are regularly employed at UVM to support faculty, and while this help is welcomed, working with UTA's can sometimes present challenges.

The CTL recently held three faculty focus groups—a total of about 20 UVM faculty—to gather information about how to identify and hire a UTA who will be a good match. The groups also shared ideas about how to develop effective relationships with UTAs that benefit everyone involved, especially the students enrolled in the class.

UTA Descriptions

Here are some TA descriptions from colleges, departments, or programs:

Note: To request adding another link to this list, email ctl@uvm.edu.

A few departments offer credit to students who want the experience of being a UTA. If you are a faculty member interested in working with a UTA, check with your department to learn what opportunities may be available.

Hiring UTAs

Aptitudes

Our focus group faculty were in agreement that just because a student performs excellently in class, they are not guaranteed to make an excellent UTA. Some of the additional qualities that faculty recommend looking for are:

  • tact and sensitivity
  • ability to clearly explain the material to other students
  • organizational skills
  • attention to detail
  • comfort with taking initiative
  • ability to cope with stress

The bottom line is to carefully select your UTAs, looking further than their class performance.

Application

The search for an excellent UTA often begins with an application asking for basic information. This list is from the UVM Department of Religion's application:

  • Name
  • Class standing
  • Major and Minor
  • Courses that you would like to TA
  • Brief statement of your interest in serving as TA (maximum of 150 words)

Resume and Cover Letter

Some faculty ask for a resume and a cover letter as well as the application. Not only will this guide your hiring process, but students will gain valuable job-seeking experience that contributes to their 4-Year Plan for Career Success. If you decide to request this, we recommend sharing these helpful resources from the UVM Career Center with your application:

Interviews

In addition to the paperwork, it's a good idea to interview the student and talk about the qualities you're looking for. For instance, you can find out if they will be comfortable with—or better yet, enthusiastic about—fulfilling the requirements of the role such as running study sessions or helping students during office hours.

UVM Policies Related to Undergraduate Teaching Assistants

As a supervisor, it's important for you to know the UVM policies that govern student employment and that you share these policies with your UTAs so they're aware of their responsibilities and rights: Undergraduate Student Employee Policy [PDF]

Since UTAs are university employees, and since they may be working with their peers, consider asking them to read the Policy for Amorous Relationships with Students [PDF].

Establishing Work Expectations

It's a good idea to meet with your UTAs regularly, but especially at the start of their employment to present and discuss a memo of understanding stating your expectations of them. 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 grading

For reference, here are a few of the duties that the College of Arts and Sciences deems appropriate:

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

  • Proctor exams
  • Lead exam review sessions
  • Help write exam questions
  • Assist in grading that requires little or no judgment on the part of the UTA
  • Attend class and take notes (and share with Access students)
  • Enter grades into spreadsheets
  • Give one or two guest lectures during the course of a semester
  • Pick up and return movies and books to library
  • Lead movie discussions
  • Meet individually with students needing assistance
  • Lead small weekly discussion groups
  • Sit in back of lecture hall to help with noise issues, etc.
  • Attend meetings with the instructor
  • Answer student questions on email
  • Help students with online discussion lists
  • Prepare the classroom in various ways before a lecture, e.g. start up PowerPoint
Source: http://www.uvm.edu/cas/forchairs/?Page=genpolicies/hbteachassistpol.html&SM=genpolicies/hbgenpolsub.html

CTL Support

In closure, the CTL offers training workshops for UTAs on topics such as discussion facilitation, building effective peer-teaching relationships, Blackboard course building, and grading. To request support for your UTAs, please send an email to ctl@uvm.edu.

If you have ideas, training requests, or suggestions for additions to this page, email: ctl@uvm.edu.

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