Teaching Assistant Handbook

Florida State   /   Graduate   /   TA Handbook

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Florida State University. As a new employee of the department, we felt it appropriate to provide you with a compilation of the rules, rights and responsibilities you face with respect to your new job. This handbook has been designed to answer the basic questions you may have regarding what your job(s) may entail, how to request leave time, how to deal with problem students and a host of other topics that you may face as a teaching assistant in the department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

As you read this handbook, please keep in mind that although you are still considered a student by the University, you are also considered a professional employee of this department. The position of teaching assistant at a major University is an important degreed position and should be treated as such. Whenever you make decisions regarding your preparation, presentation and overall attitude toward your teaching assignment, please remember that you are not just a student, but a professional instructor as well.

TEACHING ASSIGNMENTS

Teaching assignments are issued on a semester-to-semester basis based on courses offered and TAs needed. Approximately 6 weeks prior to the beginning of each semester, a list of teaching assistants is formed based on information from each graduate student’s major professor. After this list is formulated, each graduate student on that list is issued via email a teaching preference form (See example below), listing the possible positions available for that semester.

Once teaching assignments are made, the TA’s responsibilities are as follows:

    1. Contact the Instructor of the course immediately to determine the days and         hours of the teaching assignment.

    2. Ascertain if there is any conflict between the TA assignment and your class         schedule. If a conflict exists, contact the personnel making the         assignments immediately so that adjustments can be made.

JOB DESCRIPTION: LAB INSTRUCTOR

A graduate laboratory teaching assistant (TA) in chemistry is responsible for the supervision of all laboratory activities for a specific chemistry course. The TA is responsible for maintaining a safe, instructive atmosphere in the laboratory at all times. The TA must follow all safety guidelines at all times in the laboratory, and must enforce these guidelines for all students in the laboratory. TA’s are generally expected to attend all pre-lab sessions, all laboratory sessions, and any other meetings scheduled by the course instructor or the lab coordinator. The TA is required to be familiar with all experimental procedures and calculations involved in an experiment prior to entering the laboratory and must be prepared to lecture briefly on this material. TA’s are also responsible for grading laboratory reports and pre-lab assignments. The TA is required to maintain an accurate grade and attendance record. TA’s have primary responsibility for laboratory housekeeping, and should ensure that all areas are clean and neat before leaving the laboratory. The TA will provide first response in the event of a laboratory accident.

Job Responsibilities
Description
Teaching Contact Hours
Two lab sections at 3 hours each.
Help Room Contact Hours
Tutoring-style office hours.
Lab Preparation*
Background must be read and lectures
Staff Meetings
Discussion on the next experiment.
Grading
Grading for each section: Generally** involves but is not limited to 24-28 lab reports and 24-28 pre-lab assignments per week. Data entry of grades.

*It should be noted that for upper level courses the hours of preparation required generally increases.

**Numbers given for student enrollments are generalized and may vary slightly depending on the type of course.

JOB DESCRIPTION: RECITATION INSTRUCTOR

A graduate recitation teaching assistant (TA) in chemistry is responsible for the development of supporting lectures for a specific chemistry course. TA’s are generally expected to attend all class sessions, and any other meetings scheduled by the course instructor. The TA is required to be familiar with all concepts and calculations involved in a class prior to the recitation class. TA’s are also responsible for grading any quizzes, homework or exams assigned by the instructor. The TA is required to maintain an accurate grade and attendance record.

Job Responsibilities
Description
Teaching Contact Hours
3 Recitation Sections 1 hour each; 3 class lectures 1 hour each.
Help Room Contact Hours
Tutoring-style office hours.
Lecture Preparation*
Background must be read and lectures developed.
Staff Meetings
Discussion of class material at the Instructor’s discretion.
Grading
Grading for 3 sections: Generally** involves but is not limited to 60-90 quizzes and 60-90 homework assignments per week. As well as periodic exams. Data entry of grades.

*It should be noted that for upper level courses the hours of preparation required generally increases.

**Numbers given for student enrollments are generalized and may vary slightly depending on the type of course.

JOB DESCRIPTION: GRADER

A graduate grading teaching assistant (TA) in chemistry is responsible for the grading of homework, quizzes and exams for a specific chemistry course. TA’s are generally expected to proctor all lecture quizzes and exams, and attend any other meetings scheduled by the course instructor. The TA is required to be familiar enough with all concepts and calculations involved in a class in order to accurately grade that material. The TA is required to input and maintain an accurate grade record. Grading assignments are given at 0.50 graders per class of ~100 students. When possible, grading TAs are assigned to one large lecture course and one moderately sized course. The assignments are adjusted up or down to accommodate special course demands; e.g. class size, upper-level courses, special instructor needs. Graders are responsible for learning all background and lecture material necessary for accurate grading of homework, quizzes and exams at the instructor’s discretion.

Job Responsibilities
Description
Proctoring
Proctoring quizzes and exams for two courses as needed.

VACATION OR LEAVE TIME

Each TA is paid to be present for the entirety of each academic semester as well as the break periods in between semesters. Being aware of the times during the semester when you will need to be available, not only for teaching, but also for organizational meetings and training sessions is a responsibility of all teaching assistants.

As a general rule, you are required to be available for the two working days prior to each semester’s start date for organizational meetings and training sessions. You are also required to be available at the end of a semester through the due date for grades. These dates will vary from semester to semester but it is your responsibility to be aware of them and comply with the availability rules.

Vacations – should be scheduled for the weeks/days that fall in between the availability times stated above and should be coordinated with your major professor.

Conferences – that often occur during the course of a semester are recognized as legitimate excused absences from work, BUT it is your responsibility to 1) notify your course instructor as soon as possible about the missed work days, and 2) FIND A PERSON TO COVER YOUR POSITION WHILE YOU ARE GONE.

Vacations and trips home are not to be scheduled during the working semester.

Sick leave- If you are sick on the day you are supposed to teach, it is your responsibility to contact the course instructor as soon as possible to allow them time to cover you for that day. If you are unable to contact your professor directly, contact (850) 644-3810 and leave a message. Also try to contact other TAs that are also teaching the course. Do not assume someone will notice you are missing.

TA-STUDENT RELATIONS

TA-Student relations can be discussed from two totally different subject matters: Relations and Relationships.

Relations: Students are the customers of the University. As an employee of the University you are required to:

    1. Teach the student.
    2. Be polite, courteous and considerate when communicating both verbally and in         writing with the student.
    3. Enforce the rules regarding student behavior set forth by both the University         and the department.

Unlike customers in other retail situations, students are not always right. But there are good ways and bad ways to let a student know when he or she is “in the wrong”.

Some of the bad ways that are both not professional and not tolerated in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department are:

    1. Cursing at the student.
    2. Belittling the student.
    3. Calling a student a name other than his/her own.
    4. Discussing a student’s behavior with other students.
    5. Threatening the student either physically or academically.

If a student becomes a problem, this should be immediately brought to the attention of the instructor of the course. The same things that are unacceptable with respect to TA-student relations are also unacceptable in the reverse. You do not have to tolerate any of the above “bad ways” of communicating and if you are faced with any of the above, bring it to the attention of your course instructor immediately.

RelationshipsNever date your students! If you are in a relationship with an undergraduate chemistry student, please make sure that student is never directly under your supervision. If this happens, notify your instructor or the personnel making the teaching assignments so that this problem may be avoided.

SATISFACTORY PERFORMANCE

Standard Departmental forms and mechanisms are employed to evaluate the performance of TAs. Both evaluations by students being taught and faculty supervisory evaluations are carried out during each semester. Unsatisfactory performance typically involves absence from assigned work periods, late performance of assigned work duties, or unsatisfactory interactions with undergraduate students being taught. In general practice, if TA performance is unsatisfactory during the semester, faculty supervisors in conjunction with the department will proceed through the following steps:

    1. Verbally inform the TA of the nature of the dissatisfaction and of a reasonable         manner in which they may resolve the problem;

    2. Repeat the complaint to the TA in writing with copies to the appropriate         departmental personnel;

    3. If performance is particularly and chronically unsatisfactory in the opinion of         the faculty supervisor, a meeting between the TA, faculty advisor and         department representative will be arranged.

    4. Continued failure to comply with department demands will result in a partial or          full “docking” of TA salary.

    5. As a last resort, the department reserves the right to decline to offer TA         assistance to a poorly performing individual, consistent with the department’s         aim to offer the highest possible levels of teaching quality.

Any student denied TA reappointment for poor performance would be informed of this before the end of the semester during which the evaluation was carried out. In practice, it has been rare for performance to be so bad as to cause TA reappointment to be declined.