How to be a Teaching Assistant

Gordon Lu

How to be a TA

So you want to be a Teaching Assistant for the CS Department… good choice! But there are a couple 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! Larissa Ciuca is in charge of coordinating UTAs and Peer Tutor job assignments. Email her at lbc17@pitt.edu!

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?

Whereas a UTA is more specialized in a particular class, and closer in communication with a specific professor, a Peer Tutor is open to offer help to any student who stumbles into the CRC.

What do I need to apply as a UTA?

First, you’ll need to apply on Pittsource. This is the website where you will attach a Resume, and a Cover Letter, in which you will detail your intent in applying to become a UTA! You will also need to send Emily Morris 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! Oftentimes, professors with tenure are the ones who are also faculty members. (Petrucci, Hoffman, Tan, Garrison, Ramirez, etc...)

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 need it! So, it’s of your utmost importance to show that you’re approachable, friendly, and most importantly, helpful!

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

If you end up TA’ing for a professor whose lectures aren’t the best, that’s not a problem! Always make sure to stay in close contact with the professor you TA for! Oftentimes, they’re unaware that students are struggling to get what they teach in class! As a TA, your job isn’t only to help students sort out any problems they may have with concepts, and coding, it’s to also provide assistance to 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?

Oftentimes, you may come across a student who is either 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 and such. For the students who are too stubborn for their good, be sure to be patient, and backtrack and ensure that you reach a point where they do realize their wrongs. Always be patient with students, always.

What do I need to prepare for Recitations?

I always believe that the amount you need to prepare is conditional on the difficulties of assignments, and the professor. Sometimes, the professor you end up becoming a TA for will provide you a rundown of what they want covered in recitations, and other times they don’t. I always take a peek at what the professor has covered in lecture, and 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 TA, but you should try to be as active as possible. Students understand that as a TA, you have to balance schoolwork on top of your duties as a TA. If a student sends you an email with a question, try to answer it within a couple 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, by answering it in a shared Discord Channel, it may help answer another student’s question.

Last updated: Aug 23rd 2020