The classroom can be a site of mentorship where instructors work with graduate student Teaching Assistants in teaching teams, and support student learning and development during office hours. The mentoring relationships that can occur in teaching contexts contribute significantly to the teaching mission of UC Santa Cruz and play an important role in promoting student success, accessibility, and educational equity.
Working with Teaching Assistants
Graduate student Teaching Assistants are key components of the teaching team, as they may conduct discussion sections, problem-solving sections, recitation sections, laboratory sections, or studios linked to a main course. They may hold office hours, lead review sessions, provide feedback on and grade student work, author exam questions, develop course materials, and assist faculty in the main course. Given these varied responsibilities, collaboration and communication are crucial to ensuring positive teaching and learning experiences for instructors, TAs, and undergraduates alike.
View the full Guide to Working with Teaching Assistants.
The word “assistant” can lead some to think of TAs as helpers, there to make the current course go more smoothly. However, the experience of being a Teaching Assistant is often an important part of the overall graduate student experience at UC Santa Cruz, and is part of graduate students’ professional development in their field of study. Many TAs are contemplating (or actively pursuing) a future that involves teaching, and working with TAs offers an important opportunity for mentorship. While TAs receive professional development support from department pedagogy courses and workshops and from the TLC, instructors have a unique opportunity to provide mentorship in teaching by:
- Openly discussing their teaching choices and the philosophies behind those choices. These conversations are also a good time to explore the TAs’ immediate and long-term pedagogical goals, strategies, and experiences.
- Using time in teaching team meetings to explicitly discuss strategies for promoting equity and inclusion in the context of the course, and supporting TAs to implement those strategies in their current teaching and in future courses (see the video below with Jody Greene for more information).
- Offering to observe the sections/labs that TAs conduct, with the TA’s willingness and consent. The Instructor can discuss the TA’s specific goals before the lab or section, and provide feedback after the observation. TLC has several example teaching observation protocols that can support both parties to have a reflective, engaged, meaningful experience. Observations are key if TAs ever need a letter of recommendation about their teaching from the instructor, as it’ll give the instructor firsthand experience to write about.
- Giving interested TAs an opportunity to lead lecture, or part of a lecture, once during the quarter. If this is an option, it should be clearly indicated on the Description of Duties. The Instructor can observe the lecture, take notes, and reflect with the TA on the experience.
Mentoring Students in Office Hours
Office hours play a critical role in student learning and professional development, as they function not just as an opportunity for students to ask questions about course content, but also as a space to build relationships with faculty and discuss career paths and opportunities to engage with course materials beyond the classroom.
In order to encourage the use of office hours, consider:
- Defining what you mean by office hours and explaining the purpose of office hours in your syllabus and throughout your course
- Recognizing the fact that students may feel intimidated to meet with you one-on-one
- Having various options for office hours, such as:
- Group office hours
- Zoom offerings
- In-person meetings at a more informal spot on campus than your office
- Chat-based office hours using your preferred classroom forum, be it Discord or Slack
- Renamed office hours that speak to the purpose of the meeting. Some of our favorites are:
- “Student hours”
- “Homework club”
- “Cafe con Profe”
- “Career chats”
- Sharing any changes to office hours with your teaching team in order to build consistency in messaging. This is especially important as graduate student TAs are often the members of the teaching team to whom undergraduate students turn when they need more support in a course, when they experience barriers to their learning or inclusion, or when they experience challenges that make it difficult to keep up with a course.