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Strengthening the teaching assistant and instructor relationship during remote learning

The instructor–teaching assistant relationship can be one of the most vital partnerships in the education world. This relationship fosters mentoring from the instructor onto the teaching assistant, who will hopefully assume the instructor’s position one day.

The instructor–TA relationship also needs to be strong to make the mentoring relationship effective. Here are some pointers on how to foster a healthy instructor-teaching assistant relationship.

Establish reliable lines of communication in distance education

Good communication involves more than call and response interactions. Instructors and their TAs need to create deliberate communication tactics and methods. Fortunately, the means of establishing a strong communication relationship varies on the work required.

Some of the more standard methods to stay in touch include daily meetings to brief each other on the day’s tasks and weekly meetings to discuss overall progress, needed assistance on grading assignments or other instructor duties, etc.

With the teaching experience going predominantly online, don’t allow distance to become an excuse for not coordinating closely. Whether it’s via a Zoom call during the day or sending emails consistently, keep the lines of communication open. Some tips for both parties include:

  • As a TA, follow-up when a task or objective is unclear. Whether you’re working from home or unable to come to campus, ask questions and create opportunities to do so when possible.
  • As an instructor, spearhead as many communication opportunities as possible. Set daily and weekly checkpoints early on in the relationship and at the beginning of the semester.

The communication channel doesn’t take as much precedence as the routine itself. In other words, what matters most is the fact that the instructor and assistant keep in touch, genuinely considering each other’s needs.

Establish and clearly define the roles for the TA and instructor

The foundation of a sustainable TA and instructor relationship is a clear understanding of each other’s roles. Instructors need to articulate their goals and expectations for their assistants clearly. When these goals are understood, they can work synergistically in the classroom with few hiccups. That entails a mixture of collaboration and delegation.

For example, the teacher needs to pinpoint and create strategies to help students meet key learning objectives. The teaching assistant can help the instructor by aiding students in organizing the materials needed to learn a subject. They can also help students interpret lessons or help the instructor create resource material for the students.

They can also assist instructors by providing behaviour support.

Usually, a TA in a physical classroom would also observe students as they work, perhaps, writing notes on how students interact with one another or with themselves. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of students to learn remotely, teaching assistants may help instructors record how students behave on camera or are actively present versus those who are not.

Regardless of the task, the instructor/assistant relationship is a 50/50 where the teacher leads, but the assistance offers support. With that said, it’s vital that they both understand their roles and don’t overstep boundaries.

Online teaching? Establish strong guidelines for decision-making

For the instructor–assistant relationship to be sustainable, the assistant needs to measure independence. Teaching assistants should always consult the instructor when making crucial decisions, but the assistant can handle many lower priority tasks.

With that said, it’s helpful to create a style guide, which a teaching assistant can follow and use to make their own decisions.

Some of the items that you can provide decision-making guidelines for include:

  • Establishing classroom routines
  • Deciding classroom rules
  • Managing classroom plans

Guidelines become essential because the teacher’s goal is to help the assistant become an effective and independent instructor. By guiding them to make their judgement calls, teachers will nurture the assistant without micromanaging them.

Building and maintaining a healthy instructor–teaching assistant relationship

Fostering a healthy instructor–teaching assistant relationship takes time and effort, but once you’re able to establish it, there are many benefits that both sides can experience. The teaching assistant will learn the ropes of managing a classroom in ways that post-secondary schooling won’t teach. The instructor themselves will sharpen their teaching methods and communication skills as they interact with the assistant.

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