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Returning to in-person courses: What you can expect as a GA/TA

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Students standing in front of Dillon Hall

After spending the last two years almost exclusively attending university online, most in-person activities will be resuming in Fall 2022. For many graduate assistants (GAs) and teaching assistants (TAs), this may be the first time you will experience navigating courses in-person. This may make you feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to expect. Well, take a deep breath! Some aspects of being a GA/TA will change, but there are several things that will remain the same in-person as they were online. This blog post is intended to give you an idea of what you can expect, along with some advice for Fall 2022.

What will stay the same?

Have questions? Just ask! Just like when you GA/TA’d online, course instructors and program administrators are great resources. If you have a question related to the course or your responsibilities, ask the instructor. If you have a question about your GA/TA position, ask your program secretary. They will typically have the answer, and if they don’t, then they know who to contact. Just like you, they want everything to run as smoothly as possible.

Attend GATAcademy. Whether your class is online or in-person, I encourage all GAs/TAs to attend the Fall and Winter GATAcademy workshops held just before the start of each semester. The workshops will provide you with some basic skills for being a GA/TA (e.g., using Blackboard, providing feedback, leading labs or lectures, etc.). If you find out what course you’re assigned to GA/TA prior to the start of the semester, I recommend contacting the course instructor to see if they have specific GATAcademy workshops they would like you to attend. The instructor will know best what you should learn for their course as a GA/TA and the workshops will help you prepare. View more information on GATAcademy. The GATA Network also has a YouTube channel with recordings of past GATA-related workshops on various topics:

Form 1 – Outline of duties. At the beginning of the semester, as always, you will be given a Form 1 to sign. This document will outline your duties as a GA/TA and provide an estimate of how many hours you will spend on each task. If you have questions at this stage, contact the course instructor. If you do not receive this form, then you should follow up with the instructor. Just send an email asking to touch base about the Form 1 and your responsibilities for the semester. To help facilitate this discussion with the course instructor, explore the following resource which includes general policies and guidelines, a copy of the Form 1, and a checklist to help communication and clarification between instructors and GAs/TAs.

Read the syllabus. As another piece of advice, I suggest all GA/TAs review the syllabus. At least the assignment/exam schedule. This advice is applicable to online or in-person formats and simply allows you to plan your schedule ahead of time. I recommend blocking time off in your schedules the weeks you will be marking to complete and ensure sure you know when your own class assignments will be due. That way you can allot time to both and do not have to worry about falling behind and students can get their marks back in a timely manner.

Track your hours. Just like online, your GA/TA contract and Form 1 will indicate how many hours you have for the semester. The number of hours you receive will depend on what year you are in and your program. Hours usually range between 70 hours and 140 hours for the semester. The course instructor will know how many hours you have when they assign your duties in the Form 1. Typically, you will not have to worry about exceeding your hours. However, sometimes unanticipated hours are spent helping students or marking assignments. If you keep track of the hours you work, then you can make sure you are not working more than you are paid for and you can notify the instructor when you are close to running out. Do not wait to tell the instructor if you are close to the end of your hours. As a general rule, contact the instructor if you are near 20 hours remaining (e.g., 120 of my 140 hours). This will give the instructor time to make alternative arrangements or revise your duties to avoid going over.

How will things change?

Attending classes. This will vary depending on the course you are assigned. Online you may have moderated classes by listening in, keeping your camera and microphone turned off. However, whenever I have been a GA for in-person classes, the instructor normally requests that GAs/TAs attend at least the first lecture in-person. This provides the opportunity to introduce yourself to the students. Other times the instructor may want you to attend specific classes. For example, they may want your help facilitating an in-class activity, marking presentations, or supervising a midterm. Additionally, some instructors will want you to attend all classes (assuming you do not have your own class at the same time) so you can become familiar with the course material.

Dress appropriately. Although this may seem like common sense, many of us have spent the last two years behind the comfort of our computer screen with the camera off, dressed in sweatpants or pyjamas. With the return to in-person formats, it is important to consider the way you dress. There is no specific dress code for GA/TAs, but different courses and instructors will have different expectations. For example, business instructors may want you dressed in business attire (i.e., a suit), whereas a biology lab may require you to wear a lab coat, and other courses will be okay with jeans and a nice shirt. Regardless, you should try to dress nicer on the days you are in class or office hours. Nothing extreme – just dress as if you are giving a presentation or meeting with your supervisor. This will help you feel more confident when dealing with students and shows the instructor you take your position seriously. As a GA/TA you are a representation of the course and the instructor, not just another student in the class.

 Office hours. Unlike online, you will have face-to-face interactions with students. In-person office hours may be overwhelming, but I find it is much easier to help students. You can observe their reactions for understanding, physically show students their exams, or use whiteboards and paper to explain complex concepts.

If you have recurring office hours (e.g., every Monday from 1-3pm), where students can drop in, there will be times when no one shows up and times when half the class shows up. Be prepared for both. Office hour attendance will likely depend on when major assignments are due, with more students showing up the week before assignments or exams and after they get their marks back. Bring your own work to do, but be ready to put it away when students walk in. If a lot of students show up at once, take one student or group at a time, and let the others know they have to wait their turn in line, but you will help them as soon as possible. If your office hours end and you still have a line-up of students, there are a couple options. Stay longer and extend your office hours, but only if your schedule allows it. Alternatively, direct students to email you for an appointment, to contact the instructor with their questions, or, when there are multiple GA/TAs for one course, to see the other GA/TAs during their office hours.

If offering office hours by appointment only, ask students before the meeting what they would like to discuss. This will allow you to be prepared (e.g., review course notes) and ensure you have the appropriate materials (e.g., student assignments) to help them.

Paper and pen marking. You will likely have to mark hard copies (i.e., paper and pen) for some assignments. If provided, review guidelines from the instructor before marking. Some will have a specific colour they want you to mark in (e.g., blue pen) and give you instructions for feedback (e.g., circle the final grade, put marks in the right-hand margin, etc.). In some courses, you may be working with other GA/TAs to mark, which takes more coordination. Establish a communication pathway (e.g., email, Teams, Messenger) and coordinate with your fellow GA/TAs to drop off or pick up the assignments. Regardless of whether you mark with others or by yourself, one of the most important things to remember is to keep assignments in a safe and secure location. Do not leave the assignments unattended and do not lose them. If they are lost or stolen, this creates a serious problem where students might have to resubmit, the release of grades is delayed, and/or GA/TAs have to remark. Lost or stolen assignments are also a breach of student privacy. My advice is to keep hard copies in a folder in a locked office. Again, refer to any instructions from the instructor. Some do not permit hard copies of assignments to be taken home to reduce the risk of lost assignments.

Scantron marking. In addition to marking hard copies of assignments, scantron marking will resume with in-person courses. The use of scantrons will vary according to the instructor; some choose not to use them. To mark scantrons, you have to open a ticket with IT services. Some instructors will mark scantrons themselves, or at least fill out the ticket, others will ask their GA/TAs. After opening the ticket, you will go to the University Computer Centre (attached to the CAW) with an envelope containing all student scantrons and an answer sheet (i.e., a scantron with the correct answers). The staff at the Service Desk will help you from there.

Exam proctoring. This may be one of the last things you do as a GA/TA for the semester. Although you might mark the exams for the course you are assigned to GA/TA, you may not always proctor it. You may be assigned to proctor an exam for a different course (usually in your department). If there is a conflict with the exam(s) you are assigned to proctor (e.g., you have your own exam at the same time you are meant to proctor), email your program administrator immediately. They will reassign you. Proctoring may include handing out and collecting exams, and watching for potential academic dishonesty (i.e., cheating). If you see a student cheating, tell the instructor. Most instructors will ask you to arrive a few minutes before the exam so they can brief you on what they want you to do as well as help them to set up the room.

All in all, while there will be new experiences and challenges with being a GA/TA for in-person courses, there are some things that will not change. As you navigate the new semester, remember there are supports in place to help you. Reach out to the course instructor or program administrator if you have questions or concerns, and refer to the Centre for Teaching and Learning website or further explore this blog for advice, tips, and tricks.

Fallon Mitchell is a PhD student in the Faculty of Human Kinetics. She is a graduate of the University of Windsor’s BHK and MHK programs. Her experience as a graduate assistant includes lecture-based and lab courses held in-person and online.

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