Professionalism in the classroom ranges in meaning from how well prepared you are, to how you conduct yourself with the students both in and out of class, to how you deal with disagreements with your faculty supervisor. As a representative of both the department that you work for and the University itself, you are expected to follow the regulations and policies outlined by each. The following are some introductory guidelines for professional TA conduct. They by no means cover all possible aspects of professional conduct. If you find yourself in a situation where you are unsure of the most professional course of action, consult your faculty supervisor or union representative.
Preparation for Teaching
You are responsible for arriving to your class on time and fully prepared to teach. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the material that you will be teaching, and to ask your faculty supervisor for clarification if you are unsure about the material or how you should be teaching it. Many course faculty provide preparatory sessions for TAs – make sure to read over the material before attending these meetings so that you are ready to ask questions. If you are teaching for a course that does not provide preparatory sessions, make sure to read over the material you will be teaching well in advance of your class so that you will have sufficient time to contact your supervisor if you have any questions.
If you are running a class, make sure that you know how much time is available for each activity your students will do or each topic that you will cover. Good planning will make time management in the classroom much easier, so that you will be less likely to run out of time before covering your material or completing all your planned activities. Make yourself a checklist so that you can clearly keep track of the material you have covered and what you still need to do. Beside each item on your checklist, write the length of time you will devote to that topic or activity, as well as at what time you should move on to the next topic or activity.
Remember, no matter how well you know your subject and how well you have prepared for your class, there will always be questions that you will not be able to answer. It is perfectly acceptable to admit to your students that you do not know the answer, and to look it up for the following class. In fact, not knowing the answer can be an excellent opportunity to spark an interesting class discussion and to guide students to possible resources where they could investigate the question themselves. However, it is not acceptable to mislead your students by making up an answer. This does not mean that you cannot speculate and suggest possible solutions, so long as you make it clear to your students that you are speculating.
TA Conduct With Undergraduate Students
You have a responsibility to your students to treat them with respect. When speaking to your students, make sure to be polite. When you are grading assignments, make sure to keep your feedback constructive.
All of your students should have equal opportunities to ask you questions, both in and out of class. Make sure to provide all of your students with your contact information and office hours. Avoid meeting with students in informal settings (places other than your office or classroom) unless you invite the entire class.
Students may sometimes ask you if you will look over their assignments before they hand them in. If you do this, make sure that you make this opportunity available to all of your students. Although you should certainly answer students’ questions about their assignments, you should not feel pressured into proofreading or editing an assignment for a student. If you have students who need help with their writing, then you can refer them to the UBC Writing Centre (www.writingcentre.ubc.ca) where they can get free tutoring on all elements of the writing process.
Remember that as a TA, you are in a position of power. This means that you have a great responsibility not to abuse this power. Anything that might compromise your responsibility to treat all your students equally and fairly, such as dating one of your students, is completely inappropriate. If you are ever in the situation where you have a student in your class who is your friend, relative, or romantic partner, make sure to let your supervisor know immediately so that they can transfer that person into a different section of the course or otherwise prevent preferential treatment of that person.
Disputes with Faculty Supervisors
If you have a dispute with your faculty supervisor or department about issues such as (but not limited to) your pay, hours worked, or assigned duties, consult the Collective Agreement between the TA Union and the University. The Collective Agreement defines the conditions of your employment, as well as the procedures that you should follow to resolve any problems with the conditions of your employment.
If you disagree with your faculty supervisor about course policies or content, you should certainly discuss these issues with your supervisor. However, arrange to have this discussion with your supervisor in private, not in front of your students. This especially applies if you are discussing grading policies.