I’m an undergrad teaching assistant of a physic BSc student’s lab. My job is reviewing the (usually 8-10 pages long) reports the students make, arriving in electronic format. During the review, I add short comments (1-2 sentences) to the document: things like “that’s false because this and that”, “this would’ve been better such and such”, “you also could’ve check that and that”, etc. The students then get their commented report back graded by the professor. Related to the course, I never meet the students in person.

The main purpose of these comments, among letting students know what they did wrong, is to help them improve their experimental skills. Observing and documenting everything reasonable, interpreting the results, thinking further, being consistent, etc. As such, there’re usually a lot of comments on every student’s report – usually 3-5/page – even on A-graded ones.

My concern is it’s kind of hard to write even constructive comments of this kind without the possibility of sounding somewhat cantankerous. The relatively lot of “that”s bad, that’s wrong/missing/false/etc” comments I make on small, but not unimportant errors set up a negative tone as is, and in this atmosphere even writing something like “that wasn’t strictly in the task, but it’s interesting to think about this and that” may come down as negative. I try to add as much positive comments as I can – but the simple “Good!”, “Clever!”, “I like the approach” kind of notes feel falsely in large amounts, especially when the student didn’t really do anything outstanding, only did what he was told. Expanding them with something like “That’s good work. You could also check that and that” also turns into education.

I’d like to avoid coming down too testy: it would kill the purpose, making students dismiss my comments as “nah, that guy finds error in everything”. I want the students to feel that I actually want to help them, and I’m on their side. The professor – of course – told them the purpose of the reviews, but I know that when I did this same lab course (a year ago), there were still (silent) words like that about our teaching assistants.

How could I make my coments more encouraging, without sounding false?

My Ph.D. advisor and I are trying to decide whether I should take his class this Fall or be the TA for it (I have not had this class before).

My question is, shouldn’t one have already mastered the class material inside-out to become a TA? It appears that my advisor expects me to “learn as I go.” Is this usual?

Second question, how is the workload between the two? I’m thinking to be the TA, I will have to be a step ahead of the game and rather than doing the assignments, I will be designing the assignments (which requires more understanding). Which would you prefer based on what circumstances?

Consider the following scenario :

I am a first year postgraduate student. I am a kind of slow and deep learner. I have around four subjects to study for current semester. I spend almost all my time in studying those subjects and I am in need of some more time to study them.

I have been appointed as a TA for a subject that is almost out of my knowledge space.

I am hardly getting time to study ta subject. I am along with 3 other TA. Amon 3, two are seniors to me and are irregular and reluctant to come for TA work. Being a junior I can’t ask them to take participate.

Our mentor always asks me to evaluate, teach. I want to do it perfectly but with a loss of my semester marks and with no use for my grades.

Since students ask many doubts, which can be answered by master of that subject only. I am in so much stress but can’t do anything.

When asked with my batch mates., they told me not to care much about TA work but to manage on spot, which I feel difficult to do.

There is no choice for me to select a subject for my TA work and to slide afterwards.

As a TA, I have to grade students’ assignments.
The main instructor usually has requirements regarding the minimum average grade for the class.
At the same time, it is tricky to predict the class’ performance until I have graded about one third of the students’ papers (for larger classes, and one half for smaller classes).

Even then, unexpected things can come up. To ensure fairness as well as fulfill the minimum average grade required by the instructor, I often have to re-grade their papers multiple times. For example, when first grading Josh’s work, I gave him 4/5 pts for question 1. After finding out some others did better than him (but still not entirely correct), I gave the other students 4/5 and take one more point from Josh, and this process keeps going on and on. As a result, when I return the assignments to the class, their papers are full of my corrections for their previously assigned points.

I did mention curving to the instructor, but he didn’t seem to be OK with that. In fact, he manually re-graded the first HW instead of curving it, which made me feel bad (and insulted).
It doesn’t seem like the students have an issue with the way I grade, but I still wonder whether modifying the grades multiple times make me look unprepared/unprofessional?*

As a TA, I have to grade students’ assignments. The main instructor usually has requirements regarding the minimum average grade for the class. At the same time, it is tricky to predict the class’ performance until I have graded about one third of the students’ papers (for larger classes, and one half for smaller classes). Even so, unexpected things can come up. To ensure fairness as well as fulfill the minimum average grade required by the instructor, I often have to re-grade their papers multiple times. For example, when first grading Josh’s hw, I gave him 4/5 pts for question 1. After finding out some others did better than him (but still not entirely correct), I gave the other students 4/5 and take one more point from Josh, and this process keeps going on and on. As a result, when I return the assignments to the class, their papers are full of my corrections for their previously assigned points.

Some people might have thought of curving the grade instead of re-grading. Actually, I did mention curving to the instructor, but he didn’t seem to be ok with that. In fact, he manually re-graded the first HW instead of curving it, which made me feel bad (and insulted). Another point is, many times, I feel that adjusting the points for a specific question in the HW, instead of curving the total grade, is more appropriate and fairer.

It doesn’t seem like the students have an issue with the way I grade. But my question is:

Does keeping modifying students’ grades make me look unprepared/unprofessional?

I am head TA in a 300-student class, with 12 other TAs. Currently I do the following things to motivate my TAs:

  1. We have an internal Slack channel called #shoutouts where I mention TAs every time I notice them going above and beyond.

  2. I post Piazza statistics to the Slack channel every week so that we can see who is posting the most, and then rank TAs in order of how much they posted (currently, a lot of students say that Piazza is very helpful)

  3. I post grading statistics to the Slack channel so that people can see who grades the most (and least) submissions, and what is the average grade they give.

  4. I have a feedback form for students to give feedback to the course staff, and I send a message to the #shoutouts channel every time a student says a TA has been especially helpful.

  5. I tell TAs they are getting evaluated by the instructor (which I think a lot of the TAs didn’t know).

However, I have been told (by someone not involved with the class) that I am “overquantifying” things. Also, even with all of this, there are four people who I would describe as “bad TAs” (and five people who I would describe as excellent TAs, and three people who I would describe as good TAs).

What are your best ways of motivating TAs?

TL;DR: I have given a lecture once for this course in the past during an emergency, and would like to re-challenge myself once I get adequate prep time, as I feel it is an important experience. Is it a possibility for me to do it in a non-emergency situation? How would you feel if an undergraduate TA asked for your permission to give a lecture?

Some background: I am currently a undergraduate teaching assistant for a junior-level undergraduate research statistics course in the US. There is one other TA besides me who is a third year PhD student (referred to as GTA from here). Both TA’s only teach the lab and help grade. We (normally) do not go to the lecture sections.

During the third week of school, there was a big conference that GTA was going to attend, so I was supposed to teach the lab alone. No problem. The Friday before, I have a meeting with GTA to cover the lab content. While there, he informed me that I was also supposed to cover the lecture that third week. Apparently, our professor was ill and would not be returning, and I was the only one available to cover the lecture. The GTA and all three of the faculty members with prior experience teaching the course were all going to this same conference and could not teach it. Apparently, an email was sent to GTA, HR, our advisors, and all the important people except me. In the chaos, our professor forgot to inform me that I was giving the lecture.

The first lecture was the following Monday morning, and I did not have enough time to prepare a PowerPoint with the lab prep also going on at the same time. The professor did not have any material pre-made for the course for me to reference (PPT, etc.), so needless to say, I completely botched that lecture. Fortunately, I was able to prepare a very good PPT for the Wednesday lecture and redeemed myself and managed to get through all the required material. However, the whole experience has left a sour taste in my mouth. I KNOW I can do better if I have more than three days to prepare, and I know that week’s performance reflects poorly on me. This experience also made me realize how important it is to practice preparing for a lecture before I become a professor and it have a possibility to poorly reflect on my tenure package. I would really like to have a chance to give another lecture in the future for this course .

Now I know my giving a lecture was a very special case, as I have never heard of an undergraduate student giving a lecture. The professor is currently not back yet, and the graduate TA is teaching the lectures. I was informed that the responsibility should not fall on me again this semester, as there are three experienced faculty members that can cover the lecture before it comes to that.

While I probably will not do it until next semester given that the professor is not back yet, I am just wondering if this is something that would be appropriate for me to even try asking permission for. I am not sure how I should approach him on this topic. How would you feel if an undergraduate TA asked for your permission to give a lecture?

Just to add: The professor is not aware that he did not inform me that I was giving the lecture, so I don’t want to bring up the fact that I want a second chance, since I don’t plan to make him aware of our miscommunication. I don’t want to guilt him into giving me another chance if it would make him uncomfortable.

Thank you for your time.

I am an international student and doing Ph.D. in Physics at a US university.

My teaching assistant (TA) duty is to tutor undergrad students. I am supposed to solve whatever problems undergrads bringing to me. The problem is that I do not know which problems they are having to prepare in advance. Every undergrad from every lab, class in the physics department can bring whatever homework they have to me to ask. Also, I am an International Student and when I was an undergrad, I did not use the textbook undergrad here in US use and many problems are totally strange to me. Sometimes I cannot solve their homework problems. I felt very embarrassed and sorry since I wasted their time, sitting there for 15 -20 minutes to wait for me to solve it.

I am not a terribly bad student, I consistently perform about 80 percent for all the courses as well as standard exams like GRE Physics. But I feel like I am not smart enough to pursue a Ph.D. Sometimes I can come up with very good solutions for grad problems but I am not a fast thinker to solve some undergrad problems which might be solved in a very simple way.

Do grad schools train grad students to be teaching assistants? I think the Ph.D. students need to be prepared to do good TA jobs, isn’t it? For example, if someone teaches labs, they should know the content of the lab for that day to come in preparation? How can I become a better TA given my described task?