Frequently Asked Questions

  • Contact your program administrator (or the program administrator in the department in which you are teaching) for answers to these questions. They will be able to assist you.

  • TAP consultants are available to answer your questions about teaching and/or your teaching assistantship via email or in-person. To schedule an in-person consultation, please contact us.

  • At Rutgers, Teaching Assistants (TAs) are appointed by individual departments, either as part of a funding package or on a competitive, year-to-year basis. If you have questions about becoming a TA, or about the details of your TA appointment, contact your graduate program administrator.

    In addition, graduate students with a strong biological background may be qualified to teach General Biology. Please contact the Division of Life Sciences' Office of Undergraduate Instruction for more information.

    Advanced graduate students (preferably with a master's degree) may inquire about opportunities to teach in the Writing Program. Please contact the the English Department's Writing Program directly for more information.

  • Contact your program administrator (or the program administrator in the department in which you are teaching). They will be able to advise you.

  • Contact your program administrator (or the program administrator in the department in which you are teaching). They will be able to answer your questions.

  • Contact your program administrator (or the program administrator in the department in which you are teaching). They will be able to assist you.

  • E-credits are credits that do not factor into your grade point average or count toward your degree, however, they do count toward maintaining full-time student status. Your teaching assistantship (standard appointment) carries with it 6 E-credits. (Partial TA appointments have proportionally fewer E-credits.) This means that if you are registered for at least 3 other credits of coursework or research you maintain full-time status in the university, thus insuring that you receive all the benefits of a full-time student.

  • First, make sure that you are enunciating clearly and speaking slowly. If you are self-conscious about your English skills, your nervousness may thicken your accent. Should problems persist you can contact the Graduate English Language Learners Program (Grad ELL) for assistance.

    Remember, many instructors, regardless of their native language, will often find themselves repeating things. However, if you are doing this so often that it begins to interfere with the lesson, contact Grad ELL.

  • A full-time teaching assistant works normally at the maximum rate of fifteen clock hours per week (the average total hours worked for the semester divided by the number of weeks). Some weeks, especially around exams, require more work while other weeks require less. The number of hours varies according to the time of semester. For example, TAs hired as graders should expect to put in more hours when exams or papers are scheduled.

    If you are unhappy with your assigned duties or feel overburdened by the amount of work and time you are expected to invest, try talking to other TAs within the department to see if your experience is unusual and your expectations are realistic. (It is unrealistic to compare the workload of one department to another; because of the variety of duties and the disparity of disciplinary demands, what is usual in one program may not be in another). Discuss the cause of your displeasure with the department chair to see if changes can be made for the next semester. Most faculty members are sympathetic to the problems of the TA and try to be fair in their assignments.

    If you feel, however, that you are being asked to perform duties which are inappropriate, or that you are being exploited or overburdened, do not suffer in silence. Speak to someone. You should not be putting in so many hours as a TA that your graduate work suffers. Your advisor is a good person to begin with, but if you get no satisfaction there you should make an appointment with the course or department chair. If that does not help, then contact Barbara Bender in the Dean’s Office for assistance. You can say no to a faculty member who is overwhelming you with work—you are a professional and deserve to be treated like one.

  • The amount to which to will rely on your own materials versus rely on materials prepared by an instructor or lead TA will vary by the class you are teaching. In some classes, to make sure all students have a similar experience the materials and agenda will be standardized. In other situations, you may be given a theme for a class period, but have freedom to design the lecture, activities, and assignments for that class period in the way you feel will be most effective for you and your students.

    Communicating early with the lead instructor of your course before the semester begins will give you a better sense of what the expectations will be. No matter the balance between standardized materials and creative freedoms, there will always be room to adjust your teaching style and techniques to match your strengths and weaknesses, the interests of the students, and the goals of the course.

  • Your syllabus should plainly and clearly state your attendance policy as well as the consequences of violating it. You may wish to give students who are close to being penalized a warning and/or reminder of the consequences should they continue to be late/absent. (Late students can be just as problematic as absent students, so make sure to include late arrival as part of your attendance policy.)

    If students are made aware of your attendance policy at the beginning of the semester, then there will be no legitimate cause for complaint later on.

  • A recitation class is a small sub-group of a larger lecture class which meets regularly as a supplement to the weekly lectures. The lecture sections are usually taught by faculty who supervise TAs responsible for their recitation classes. The faculty member will generally determine the purpose of the recitation class, although the TA will sometimes be able to shape the class in an individual way.

    In these classes, as in all other discussion classes, the learning goals should dictate the activities. What is the purpose of the class? What do your students need to leave each day knowing? Is the class period a review session meant to further explain material already covered in the lecture? Or is the TA meant to introduce new material or engage the students with hands-on applications to concepts already learned? As the TA, you should clearly define these goals to yourself and to your students.

    Running an efficient recitation requires the TA to have a firm grasp of the course material and to keep up with the course readings, labs, and lectures. Some departments require TAs to attend all lectures for the course. Depending on your department requirements and your knowledge of the course, attending lectures can be an extremely useful practice. Although the syllabus may give TAs a general idea of what is being covered in class, only attendance at the lectures will show if all points were clearly and comprehensively explained. The TA is also aware of any potentially confusing event in the lecture (e.g., a misinterpreted word or phrase or a poorly designed PowerPoint).

    Let the students know at the beginning of the semester that the recitation class is not just a rehash of the lecture but an opportunity for the students to grapple with problems they may not thoroughly understand, to broaden their knowledge of concepts, and to give them some practice in applying the things they have learned.

    A good way to involve everyone in the class is to ask the students to be ready at the beginning of class with a question that they would like to have answered. You might start the class by writing all of these questions on the board. This takes only a few minutes and will give you an idea of the areas where students are having problems and give them a sense of participating in the shaping of the class.

    An alternate way of involving students is by outlining on the board the topics that you think need to be covered and having the students rank them. This method has the advantage of giving you more control over the contents of the class while still allowing the students some voice.

    At the end of each recitation class you may want to assess if the day’s learning goals have been met. Sometimes you will have weekly quizzes or assignments as dictated by the course, however you may choose to supplement these assessments to get a better sense for how the course is going. One suggestion is to use an “exit ticket” approach. This requires that students submit a brief assignment before leaving for the day. Alternatively, this provides an opportunity for students to write down questions that are still unclear to them. Feel free to do this anonymously if you want to ensure utmost honesty for those who might be shy about feeling behind in relation to a particular topic. Assessing student understanding regularly can give insight into topics that you may want to cover at the beginning of the next meeting or teaching methods that are most effective.

  • Classroom disruptions must be dealt with immediately. The easiest way to avoid conflict is to enumerate certain behavior guidelines in your syllabus, indicating what types of behavior you do not want to see in the class. When students engage in one of these behaviors, calmly but firmly remind them of your policy and ask that they stop.

    Explain to your students on the first day that attentiveness and participation are required. Make it clear that students are not only expected to attend class but to be there mentally. Listening to music, texting, chatting with classmates, shouting out comments, doing homework for other classes, chewing gum loudly—all these activities disturb others in the class and are not allowed. In addition, they signal a disregard for classmates.

    A common problem is the student who feels the need to monopolize class discussions or to blurt out answers before anyone else has a chance to respond. These students inhibit the quieter students, dampen the enthusiasm of the less shy, and cause resentment and anger against themselves and against the instructor who allows them to dominate the class.

    One such student is the very bright student. At the beginning of the semester at least, the student is often implicitly encouraged in this behavior both by the other students and the teacher. The other students in the class are relieved that they do not have to respond because they know that this vocal student will; the instructor—especially the new and nervous instructor—will be happy that someone is responding. Soon, however, problems may develop. Students will never become wholly engaged in the materials if they feel that the class is a dialogue between the teacher and one or two students. They will soon resent the fact that the course focuses upon a single student, and this resentment can easily turn into hostility by the end of the semester. The end result is a class which is disengaged, a course which lacks the depth that it could have derived from a full range of student responses.

    An instructor must work to engage all students. Give the students a minute or two to formulate an answer after asking a question—do not be afraid of silence. Look around the entire class, making eye contact with as many students as possible. Call on students who have not raised their hands. If they are unable to answer the first time, almost certainly they will be better prepared the second time. If a student gives an incorrect or vague answer, work with this student awhile. The bright student should certainly not be ignored, but others must also be given the opportunity and the encouragement to participate.

    If the student continues to monopolize the class, take the student aside after class and discuss the situation as you see it. Explain that although you recognize the value of the student's contributions and the depth of the student's knowledge, you also see the value of involving the whole class in the learning process. Most bright students readily acknowledge their own overeagerness and are willing to give the other students in class an opportunity to respond before they do, especially if their teachers make it clear that they appreciate the student's ability and intelligence.

    If a student interrupts others or shouts out the answer without waiting to be called on, make it clear immediately that this behavior is unacceptable. Even in a class discussion, where spontaneity is desirable, students should recognize the rights of others and treat them with courtesy. A discussion should never turn into a free-for-all, and you, the instructor, should act as moderator of the debates, exercising some control over the students and directing the discussion.

    A related problem is the student who is forever volunteering answers that do not really respond to the questions you have asked or that tend to move the class away from the topic under discussion. (This is not to say that there is only one answer to any question.). Rather than discussing the text or the issue under consideration (about which they often know very little), the student will relate long stories based on personal experiences or introduce material from another class, neither of which have relevance to the topic at hand. Oftentimes, the result of the student's response is to get the class off track.

    Anger, however, is not the best response. It is always preferable to try to avoid this situation in the first place, by formulating questions carefully so that students are forced to relate the answer to the text or the matter under discussion. If the student ignores your pointed question, as such students often do, ask the student to relate the answer to the question more specifically. If the student is unable to do this, you should ask him or her a direct question about class preparation: "Have you read the text?" or "Have you worked out all the steps of the solution?" If not, suggest that the student see you after class. At that time you should kindly, yet firmly, explain the inappropriateness of that student's responses and the necessity of paying attention to the assignments and class focus. When once informed point-blank that bluffing is not useful, the student will usually stop this behavior.

    Another problem is the genuinely disruptive student. You will sometimes encounter students who sit together (usually in one of the back corners of the classroom) and talk and laugh throughout class. Directing a pointed comment at this group may remind them of the expected behavior. "Did you wish to add something to the discussion, Mr. X?" will let them know that their behavior has been observed and is unacceptable. You should also speak to them after class, individually whenever possible. If you wish, you can ask that they no longer sit together during your class. Most students will not persist in this kind of behavior once you have very clearly let them know that you will not allow it.

    Other students may signal their lack of interest in the class by surfing the web, doing homework, or texting. Try to catch the eye of these students, letting them know in a non-verbal way that you do not approve of their behavior. Or, if the students are so engrossed in the activity that you cannot catch their eyes, ask a direct question of these inattentive students, and they will certainly not be able to answer. Often this is enough to discourage such behavior. If this doesn't work, however, ask them to stop at once and tell them to see you after class. Do not ignore these students for to do so only encourages others to participate in this kind of behavior.

    Students who make offensive remarks in the classroom must be informed at once that their behavior is unacceptable. Make it very clear from the beginning of the semester that this can never be tolerated in a university classroom. Sexist, racist, homophobic, and xenophobic remarks should be confronted on the spot. If the student seems genuinely not to understand the problem, explain why the remark is unacceptable. But if the student clearly means to offend, you should respond sternly and quickly. This is one classroom situation where a show of anger may be justified. If, after being spoken to, the student persists in such behavior, you may have to appeal to the Dean's Office of that students particular school for further action.

    In most situations, however, the basic rule is not to embarrass the student in class. Embarrassment does little to help change the student's behavior and may inhibit the other members of the class from contributing. Never let a student feel 'put down;' this intimidates and usually turns off future participation.

  • This is a not uncommon complaint. If you made the course requirements clear to the students at the beginning of the semester and have stuck to those requirements, then while the students may feel overburdened, they understood what workload was required of them from the beginning. If you are still unsure, talk to your faculty advisor for the class or your department chair. Students who continue to complain should be referred to their school's dean's office.

  • Taking an exam on the established date and time is very important, and if the student does not have an approved absence, you are not obliged to change the test date for that student. You need to be firm about test dates, however, if you think the student's request has merit, consult the course coordinator or, if you are teaching independently, the department chair.

    If the student does have an approved absence (e.g., student athlete), you are not required to give the student the same test as those who took the test on the assigned day.

  • By no means are instructors required to give extra-credit. Should you choose to do so, make sure that all students in your course have the option available to them. Extra-credit options should be made clear on the syllabus at the beginning of the course. If the extra-credit is not part of your original course design, there must be extenuating circumstances (not just poor performance) to justify it. In all cases, consult the course coordinator or, if you are teaching independently, the department chair.

  • Often, undergraduates feel more comfortable confiding in TAs than in professors. If a student comes to you with a problem, it is important to listen to the student, but keep in mind that you are not qualified to deal with serious personal or psychological problems. There are counseling services available to Rutgers students. You may want to refer your student to the appropriate one. It is also a good idea to make the course coordinator or department chair aware of any issues.

  • Harassment is a form of discrimination directed toward an individual or group based on race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, age, sex, sexual orientation, disability, or marital or veteran status. Harassment may be physical, non-verbal or verbal, and is a serious concern. As a TA, it is your responsibility to respect the rights and dignity of all of your students.

    Students who make offensive remarks in the classroom must be informed at once that their behavior is unacceptable. Make it very clear from the beginning of the semester that this can never be tolerated in a university classroom. Sexist, racist, homophobic, and xenophobic remarks should be confronted on the spot. If the student seems genuinely not to understand the problem, explain why the remark is unacceptable. But if the student clearly means to offend, you should respond sternly and quickly. This is one classroom situation where a show of anger may be justified. If, after being spoken to, the student persists in such behavior, you may have to appeal to the Dean's Office of that students particular school for further action.

    At the same time, avoiding harassment does not mean never challenging your students or allowing them to honestly debate. Rutgers is committed to the principles of academic freedom and believe that vigorous discussion and debate, as well as free inquiry and free expression, are integral parts of the classroom.

    If you have a concern, you should consult Rutgers’ policy and procedures regarding handling harassment and/or contact Senior Associate Dean Barbara Bender.

  • No student should be allowed an unfair advantage through the use of dishonest methods. Examples of academic dishonesty cover a wide range of behaviors, including copying homework, plagiarizing, buying term papers, and cheating on exams. Some students are fully aware they are cheating, while others may not identify their actions as such. Some teachers deny that their students cheat because it seems to be a personal affront, and some realize that students do cheat, indeed even suspect certain students of cheating, but refuse to act upon their suspicions. They may worry about causing the student irreparable damage, of ruining the student's life, or they may just wish to avoid an unpleasant scene, or the process involved in going through a university hearing. So, for whatever reason, they remain silent, but to remain silent is to participate in the student's dishonesty.

    Before the semester begins, instructors should read the Academic Integrity Policy, and at the beginning of the semester, spend a few minutes talking about academic integrity with their students. Reading aloud from the university policy on academic integrity is often a sobering experience, for the students learn that the teacher is obligated to report all violations for investigation. Explain very carefully that plagiarism does not merely mean copying someone's words without properly crediting them but copying their ideas also. Many students have a limited idea of what constitutes plagiarism. Correct this misperception. Set limits for your students on the first day of the semester. Explain the meaning of group work and where and when it is appropriate.

    The research paper can be an opportunity for students to become familiar with the process of original scholarship, or it can be an occasion for dishonesty. Everyone by now is familiar with the term-paper mills (if you are not, do an online search for "term paper") where a student can buy a paper. Some suggestions for prevention follow.

    • –Take time to develop a good topic. Set very definite parameters to the assignment.
    • –Don't use the same essay topics every semester.

    • –If practical, insist that students hand in outlines and working bibliographies.
    • –If possible, meet with the students before they hand in their thesis statements. Discuss the papers they plan to write. Make recommendations of sources for the papers. Tell students that they may be expected to discuss their papers and its sources at a later meeting.

    If you suspect that a student has cut-and-pasted part of a paper you need to follow through on your suspicions. When particular phrases strike you as unusual, for example, (they sound overly polished or technical or academic), do an Internet search on it. You may also want to search Amazon or Google Books or to use turnitin.com. (Whatever you do, document your searches, writing down or bookmarking the relevant URLs and keeping screenshots or printing out pages which contain matching text.

    If the paper, as a whole, doesn't quite conform to your assignment or in some way seems suspicious to you (too many sources, sources that you don't trust, footnotes which don't seem to go with the text, a complete lack of footnotes), the student may have acquired the entire paper online, either from a free site or from a paper mill which sells term papers. For more tips, visit Plagiarism and Anti-Plagiarism by Professor Heyward Ehrlich

    If you cannot pinpoint the author, but you still have serious doubts about the paper's source, speak to the student. You might ask some specific questions about the paper, what the student means by certain words and phrases, or ask questions about some of the sources cited. Do not accuse the student directly of cheating. Explore the situation with such questions as "I was interested in your statement . . .?" or "I don't understand how . . .?" or "Can you tell me how you came to this conclusion?" etc. In the absence of a satisfactory response, you are left with no alternative but to refer the matter for review.

    Likewise, make it difficult for students to cheat on exams.

    • –Don't use the same exams every semester.
    • –Give the students multiple small tests and papers rather than one or two large ones.

    • –If possible, use short answer or essay exams rather than relying solely on true/false or multiple-choice questions. If you do use multiple choice or true/false, make several different versions of the exam, with the order of the questions scrambled. Printing the exams on different colors of paper also helps.
    • –On the day of the exam, ask the students to seat themselves in alternate seats and rows so they will not be tempted to cheat.

    • –If the exam is held in a large, crowded classroom, make sure there are enough proctors. Some departments will hire them for you––ask your graduate program administrator or advisor.
    • –Walk around the classroom during the exam. If you sit down, do so in the back of the room.

    • –If you see a student cheating during the exam, take action immediately. A student who seems to be trying to look at another student's paper may be stopped with a meaningful look. If the student continues to look, insist that the student move to another part of the room.

    If you do find evidence that a student has engaged in plagiarism or any other form of cheating, don't take action on your own, like failing the student or tearing up his or her paper. Following university procedures protects you and ensures fairness for your students. Make sure you speak with your department chair.

    Please visit Rutgers' Academic Integrity website for more information.

  • As student athletes often travel, they may sometimes have to miss class or even an exam. Students who are involved in a sport at the university should inform you of this at the beginning of the semester and give you their travel schedule. If there will be serious conflicts over the semester, it is best to discuss how to resolve them at the very beginning.

    Approximately a week before each trip, the student will bring you a letter, signed by the coach and an athletic academic advisor, to remind you of the upcoming absence. Students who tell you that they are unable to attend class but fail to produce such letters should not be officially excused. A NCAA regulation states that students may not miss class for practice, only for official games.

    Student athletes are responsible for making contact with their instructors as soon as they return from a trip. Although they have been excused from class, they are still responsible for finding out what went on in the class and completing the assignments. If a student athlete in your class seems to be having difficulty keeping up, be sure to speak to the student. Do not assume that the student is just a 'jock' and not really interested in the course; given the often difficult schedule of classes, practices, and games, it is not surprising that some students feel enormous pressure and may need some extra help.

  • All students have a basic right to privacy, and it is the responsibility of the TA to respect and safeguard that privacy. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, commonly known as FERPA or the Buckley Amendment, dictates that information about students cannot be released without their express permission. Although this ruling most directly concerns staff members working in offices that deal with academic transcripts, disciplinary records, psychological files, and placement office credential files that contain letters of recommendation, TAs too must take care that student grades, records, and identifiable information are handled in a confidential manner.

    NEVER discuss one student's grades with another student or with any other person. Of course, you may discuss students with those who have a professional "need to know," such as other faculty involved with that student.

    When returning exams or papers, do not allow other students to pick up papers for their absent friends. Posting grades by student identification numbers or by student names constitutes a violation of students' right to privacy. Return written work only to the student concerned. Do not email grades to students. Posting grades on a secure e-platform, such as Canvas, Sakai, or eCollege is acceptable. Students may visit the online SAS Gradebook to find their final grades a week or two after the instructor is required to submit them.

  • Many TAs know what remedial programs exist in their own department for students (i.e., peer tutoring, formal study groups, etc). If such support does not yet exist in the department, TAs may wish to help students set up informal groups or even match up willing students as study partners, for one-on-one tutoring.

    In addition, the university has several centers designed to assist students in need. These include the:

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