TA Professional Development Program
By the end of the Program, participants will be able to do the following in an inclusive and professional manner:
- …identify their roles and responsibilities as TAs, including FERPA compliance and the responsibility they have to promote a quality undergraduate education.
- …integrate consideration of UCI student diversity and inclusive practices throughout their TA experiences.
- …identify campus resources that can provide both their students and themselves with educational and personal assistance (i.e., the Learning & Academic Resources Center, the Counseling Center, etc.).
- …identify and discuss how to effectively conduct student office hours and address various challenges they may encounter such as academic support, mental health issues, and sexual harassment.
- …practice the basics of Canvas, Zoom, and other technological tools for common TA needs.
- …design a discipline-specific learning activity, including identifying concrete, student-centered learning outcomes, and selecting strategies that will help students to achieve those outcomes.
- …apply disciplinary grading criteria to a sample of student work.
- …practice delivering brief teaching demonstrations and giving effective peer feedback.
- …build a community of support among themselves, with their Pedagogical Fellow (PF), and the Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation (DTEI).
*Since TA duties vary across disciplines, each training will be tailored to the duties and responsibilities for a particular department or School. Your training might prioritize a subset of the goals above, and may include other goals specific to the discipline.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who participates in the TA Professional Development Program (TAPDP)?
Only those TAs whose departments or Schools have mandated it participate in the Program. In most cases, these are graduate students new to both UCI and to teaching. Your department will inform you of whether you need to participate in this Program.
What is TAPDP?
TAPDP is a multi-day series of discipline-specific, interactive workshops designed to provide new TAs with skills and information that will help them to begin their instructional careers at UCI. TAPDP begins during “Welcome Week” and may continue throughout the quarter, depending on how the department or School has chosen to organize their Program.
Why should I participate in TAPDP?
First and foremost, as a TA you have a professional and ethical responsibility to help provide high quality undergraduate education. In addition to helping students learn, you can be instrumental in igniting a student’s interest in a field that you love. Undergraduate education is where you plant the seeds for future majors, graduate students, and scholars in your discipline.
Second, if you are planning on an academic career, being a successful TA is paramount to your future. Most academic positions are not at research-oriented colleges and universities. Having a track record as an effective TA can help you to get jobs, as well as to get tenure. Even at a research institution, teaching will be a significant part of your duties as a professor. If you do it well and enjoy it, it can likewise make your professional life easier and more enjoyable. It is now often encouraged in grant and fellowship applications. Across the country, most higher education institutions are also experiencing a significant change in the way students are taught—besides lecturing, faculty and TAs are increasingly being expected to adopt active learning teaching strategies. You will learn more about this type of instruction in TAPDP.
Third, whether you intend on becoming a professor or not, the skills acquired through TA’ing are helpful outside of the classroom as well. For example, excellent public speaking and presentation skills are critical for presenting at professional conferences or in any public forum. As a TA you can also learn valuable time and task management skills, how to mentor and supervise others, and how to use technology for presentation purposes. In addition, one of the best ways to truly understand something is to try to teach it to someone else; being successful at it can boost self-confidence as well. And unlike research, which often requires delayed gratification, teaching can bring immediate satisfaction.
Fourth, during the training, you will also begin to develop a community with your cohort of other new TAs. Since experienced TAs also participate as facilitators for the training, you will have someone who has been in your shoes who can help you to navigate your way through being a graduate student in your department as well as help you to TA effectively. Having this kind of support in graduate school is critical to success. One goal of the DTEI is to develop and foster communities of graduate students who share various pedagogical interests. TAPDP is a valuable opportunity for starting to develop those communities at the beginning of your UCI journey.
Even if you have taught before, being a TA is very different from having responsibility for your own courses. In addition, each new set of students has its own special characteristics, and UCI undergraduates are no exception. While you might already know how to teach, doing it within this new context can require some adjusting. For example, UCI likes to use a lot of acronyms; not knowing them can make TA’ing more confusing and diminish your sense of authority in the classroom. Knowing how to use your department’s Scantron machine so that you can grade those tests your professor asked you to grade is also important. You can always get something out of the program if you’re open to doing so.
While some people seem to be “natural” teachers, few are, and no one has ever perfected teaching. It is one thing to know a subject and quite another to teach it. What also might seem like common sense often isn’t–just think of the number of brilliant people you have experienced who were not able to effectively convey what they knew! The fact that teaching skills are not intuitive is why almost every college and university in the country has some version of a Teaching Center as a resource for both faculty and TAs.
What if I already have experience as a teacher?
The vast majority of the new TAs have never taught before. If you have, you are fortunate to have had some classroom experience before becoming a UCI TA; you can also be a great resource for those TAs who do not have experience. You no doubt can empathize with how exciting and challenging it can be to suddenly go from being an undergraduate yourself to becoming a college-level instructor. The training can also still be beneficial to experienced teachers who will need to know how to adjust their methods and knowledge for the UCI context.
Who facilitates the training?
UCI is fortunate to have one of the best and most substantive TA training programs in the UC system. A large part of the credit goes to dedicated, experienced TAs who have advanced pedagogical training and volunteer to serve as teaching mentors for you. These experienced TAs are called Pedagogical Fellows or “PFs.”
PFs are almost always from your specific discipline or School. They participated in the training as new TAs and feel that it is essential to being successful. They have TA’ed for many of the same courses for which you will TA; they understand what will be required of you and they know what kinds of teaching strategies and techniques work. To be able to help train you as a new TA, Pedagogical Fellows are competitively selected based on their excellence as TAs, their success as scholars, their interest in learning more about teaching, and their willingness to provide service to their fellow TAs. It is important to recognize that the content of the training that you will receive, and the way in which you will participate in it, is determined by the PF.
Your PF has taken a two quarter-long course in Advanced Pedagogy taught by DTEI instructors, and has received a great deal of assistance in designing their individual programs. They leverage this knowledge to select the content and methods used in your training. Not surprisingly, on the program evaluation scale of 1-6, with “6” being highest, almost every PF gets “6s” for the content of their programs, their preparedness, and their effectiveness as mentors.
What happens after TAPDP?
After TAPDP, your department might require you to participate in teaching workshops or graduate seminars offered throughout the year. To find out more, contact the DTEI (firstname.lastname@example.org) or look for workshops here.
In addition to workshops, you can also come to the DTEI for free and confidential consultation. A consultant will be happy to meet with you to discuss how you feel things are going in your TA’ing, brainstorm with you about alternative teaching methods, provide academic job search information; anything that is related to teaching is appropriate.