Last semester I started a practice to help me better connect with my teaching assistants (TAs). It worked well enough that I decided to continue it this semester. This practice, I feel, helps me get to know my TAs and helps me notice them as themselves rather than just a part of my teaching staff, for lack of a better way to describe it.
This practice takes me 15 minutes a week across my 12 undergrad and grad TAs, so your mileage may vary on how long it takes you. For those with a very different number of TAs, I’d say this scales linearly, but not by adding one minute each week for each TA, see below for details.
What I do
The short answer is I checkin on each TA twice a semester via Slack. It’s a direct message with a mix of general how are things and specific stuff happening at the moment. I also use this weekly time to reflect on all the TAs and note anything I’d like to remember for future reference. The notes are usually good, like how one TA was extra responsible, stepped up to help more, etc. It’s anything that I might want to include in a reference letter if they ever ask me for one or evidence about their hireability for future TA positions.
I reach out on Mondays and have an item on my to-do list (see my blog post on how I track my to-do list) to reach out again on Thursday if they don’t respond. They almost always respond within the day. We have a brief discussion on what is going on, and I sometimes find out about something important for me to know, or it’s an opportunity for me to provide information on something they weren’t aware of.
How I do it
Many of you probably don’t need this section since the above is likely enough to work with. But just in case, some implementation details. I keep a spreadsheet of all the TAs I’ve ever had. Each row is a note about a specific TA with name, semester, class, positive/negative comment, general category, and full detail note. Every TA gets a positive row at the beginning of the semester, noting they are TAing for me, so I always have at least one entry for every TA every semester. I track who I’m going to contact when in a separate tab. I copy my list of TAs, scramble the order, copy the list, and scramble it again. Then I add what date I’ll reach out to that TA, which generally results in 2–3 TAs per week. I refer to this sheet for my Monday check-ins.
In my message, I tell the TA this is my twice-a-semester check-in. If they are a new TA, I ask how their first time TAing is going. If we have a deadline coming up, I check when this TA has helper hours and their class forum shift and ask about that. I usually ask grad TAs how much they are working since they are on salary, while UTAs are hourly, and I can look up how much they are working. I could ask many other things, but I try to keep it to a few sentences since no one wants to read an essay or a stream of questions that are laborious to answer. My goal is not to be generic. I want to be mindful and see my TA as a whole person. And I hope reaching out helps me figure out how to support them both in their job and as a person.
And that’s it! Wow, I feel like it’s been a while since I wrote a blog post that’s so short. But sometimes, it’s nice to get a quick one out. As far as I can tell, my TAs seem to react positively to these messages. And I feel like it helps me get to know them better.
What about you, dear reader? Do you have any processes that you use to get to know TAs? I’d love to learn how you do it!