How to be a Teaching Assistant

Gordon Lu

How to be a TA

So you want to be an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant for the CS Department… good choice! But there are a couple of things you want to prepare for before helping students!

Who should I contact?

Before you can even help any student out, you have to apply for the job! Student Success is in charge of coordinating UTAs and Peer Tutor job assignments. Email them at!

Should I TA?

Have you gotten an A in a CS class? Do you want to get better at explaining technical concepts to others? Do you want a job? If you answered yes to any of those questions - you should apply!

What is the difference between a UTA and a Peer Tutor?

A UTA is specialized in the course they are placed in, for example, CS 441. They work closely with the professor during weekly meetings. UTAs lead recitations or labs and hold office hours. Peer Tutors can tutor several courses and they model effective strategies and methods for approaching challenging course material. Students schedule appointments with Peer Tutors using Navigate.

What do I need to apply to be a UTA?

First, you’ll need to apply to the Talent Center. This is the website where you will attach a Resume. You will also need a recommendation from a current CS faculty member. I would recommend getting close to some of your CS professors, it will also benefit you in the long run if you need to apply for Graduate School and future internships! Often, professors with tenure are the ones who are also faculty members (Hoffman, Tan, Garrison, Ramirez, etc...). The professor can e-mail or submit the letter to this form.

Okay, I got the job. Now what?

Woo hooo! You’re now a UTA for the CS department. But that’s only one part of your exciting job as a UTA! Remember, your job is to provide help to anyone in your recitations who needs it! So, it’s of the utmost importance to show that you’re approachable, friendly, and most importantly, helpful! You will have to complete the UTA training modules in Canvas and Knack in addition to in-person training before the semester starts.

What if the Professor I’m a TA for is Confusing?

If you end up UTA’ing for a professor whose lectures aren’t the best, that’s not a problem! Always stay in close contact with the professor you UTA for! Often, they’re unaware that students are struggling to get what they teach in class! As a UTA, your job isn’t only to help students sort out any problems they may have with concepts and coding, it’s to assist the professor, and any professor would be happy to accept any criticism with open arms!

What if I encounter a student who I can’t deal with?

Sometimes you may encounter a student who too stubborn to admit their mistakes or struggling to understand a concept. So, what should you do in this case? You should stay calm, if you aggressively pursue, and belittle the student, it won’t help. You need to stay friendly and be as helpful as possible. Your job isn’t to make students feel bad or angry. Your job is to provide help, and as such, you should provide positive feedback. If a student struggles to understand a concept, question what confuses them. For the students who are too stubborn for their own good, be patient, backtrack, and ensure that you reach a point where they realize their wrongs. Always be patient with students, always.

What do I need to prepare for Recitations?

The amount you need to prepare is conditional on the difficulties of assignments, and the professor. Sometimes, the professor you are UTA’ing for will provide you a rundown of what they want to be covered in recitations, and other times they don’t. I always take a peek at what the professor has covered in the lecture, design slides to summarize lectures and provide an idea of approaches to Labs/Projects in hopes that it provides clarity to any confusion. Additionally, designing practice questions on course content is always a plus. Not only will it ensure that all students in your recitation are engaged, but it also gauges their knowledge of concepts. The ideal recitation in my opinion would be around 15 - 30 minutes on slides you have prepared, and the remaining time be allocated for any questions students may have on assignments and concepts! Always make sure you put out a positive vibe, and are always willing to help others!

How reachable should I be?

You should try to be as reachable as possible. You don’t need to dedicate an immense amount of time to being a UTA, but you should try to be as active as possible. Students understand that as a UTA, you have to balance schoolwork on top of your duties. If a student sends you an email with a question, try to answer it within a couple of hours. Additionally, try to set up a Discord Server or some method of communication where students can communicate with each other, and you can monitor their whereabouts. Oftentimes, when a student has a question about a concept or code, answering it in a shared Discord Channel, may help answer another student’s question. You will need to be active in Microsoft Teams for the Peer Tutors and UTA channel coordinated by Student Success.

Last updated: Apr 1st 2024