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Home > Graduate Studies > Graduate Teaching Assistant Guidelines

Graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) are important and essential members of UMD's Department of Mathematics and Statistics. When they assist faculty by serving as exam or essay graders or laboratory assistants, small group discussion leaders or study section facilitators, or are responsible for their own courses, graduate students enhance the teaching capacities of our department. Due to the importance of the teaching responsibilities assigned to graduate students, serious consideration must be given to how we develop and evaluate teaching in the contexts of both undergraduate instruction and graduate education. To better prepare graduate students for various instructional duties, below we outline the responsibilities of our graduate students who contribute greatly to the vitality of our department by fostering intellectual exchange among faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates.

Mandatory Responsibilities

The primary responsibility is that of assisting the instructor who teaches the course. GTAs holding a 50% appointment are expected to work no more than 20 hours per week on average. The following are their responsibilities:

Be prepared: Arrive at class prepared to answer questions on the material for that week. GTAs should review assigned homework, prepare examples and read all emails pertaining to the class. Duties may include assisting in the grading of exams, writing and grading quizzes (quizzes may need to be written in advance and previewed by instructor), recording grades, weekly meetings, including examples or activities as specified by instructor, tracking attendance, assisting with proctoring the final, reviewing for exams, enforcing calculator/notes restrictions, etc. Talk to experienced graduate students who have taught the class before.

Make use of the full hour: Allow time for questions, but be prepared for the worst-case scenario, no questions. Prepare enough examples or other information to fill at least 45 minutes. Focus on working examples. The material will have been covered previously in lecture, except for the first Tuesday of a semester.

Don't predict instructors' behavior: There is nothing worse for a student than to hear the instructor say one thing and then have GTAs contradict the instructor. If teaching assistants don't know an answer to a question, the teaching assistants should tell the students they will talk to the instructor and get back to them via email or the next class.

Tell the instructor of any problems: Discuss with the course instructor right away any problems encountered with a student, the material or the instructor. They will be understanding and work with teaching assistants to find a remedy to the problem. This includes cheating, any student conflict or if teaching assistants misspeak in class.

Be available for students: Tell them where teaching assistant offices are located and when the teaching assistants will be there. Also tell them that teaching assistants are looking forward to them coming to visit office hours. Make students aware that teaching assistants are excited to get a chance to know them one-on-one, but that can't happen unless they visit office hours. Remind them of this several times during the semester.

Keep the students up to date: The grades for classes are able to be available online and updated regularly. Remind the students they can go online and check how each assignment has affected their grade anytime.

Have fun!: Allow natural enthusiasm/excitement to shine through when working with the students. Past experience has proven that the students will be more receptive and engaging when they believe the teaching assistants are enjoying themselves.


First Day Suggestions
  1. Be especially prepared for the first day. Many students decide in the first 10 minutes of the first class whether they are going to like the class or not. Make sure to meet with the instructor before the semester begins. Also check the web class schedule to see if the room has been changed, as this does happen occasionally.
  2. Get the students talking immediately. Have them all say something simple - such as name, hometown, expected major, and maybe something else they want to say about themselves. If they talk the first day, they will be more likely to ask questions the rest of the term.
  3. Tell the students about yourself where you are from (maps are good), what made you interested in mathematics, how you decided to come to UMD, what your plans are, what you remember about taking the course you are now teaching, any interests or hobbies outside of mathematics, and so on. This makes students think of you as a real person and gives them easy topics to start a conversation with you. Make sure they know that you are also a student and that you need to spend a significant time on the courses you are taking as well as the one(s) you are teaching.
  4. Have a course-related activity ready after your introductions. This should be decided in cooperation with your instructor. It may be a review of some topics in a prerequisite course, some examples from the first chapter, etc. This lets students know that you are serious about the course and helps set expectations for them in class.
  5. It is OK to be nervous. Most everyone is at the first class, even after many years of teaching. The antidote is to be prepared. If you have a plan of action, and you are following it, pretty soon you are concentrating on what you are doing and the nervousness will fade.
Beyond the first class
  1. Learn your students' names. They are much more willing to work for a teacher who knows them personally and cares about their development. Continue to call on them by name every class. Use a seating chart if necessary to learn names. Memorize names as students are taking quizzes and when handing back papers.
  2. Enjoy teaching! Explaining math is the best way for you to learn. The interaction with students is rewarding.
General hints
  1. Much of mathematics is an interplay between avoiding the details (to get the big picture) and concentrating on the details (to completely understand a topic). Work on both aspects. For example, say what you are going to do (overview), do it (details), and summarize (big picture again). Ask students to make (educated) guesses about what the answer to a problem is or how to work it out before you bury them in the details.
  2. Label your board work carefully. Step back occasionally to see whether someone who just looked at the board might understand what you were explaining.
  1. Although you must be overprepared for your first class, this level of class preparation is unrealistic throughout the semester. Of course you want to be prepared, but you also need to partition your time between teaching, the classes you are taking and your research. Be helpful and generous with your efforts in class and during office hours, but students shouldn't expect that you are always "on call" to help them. If they drop by unannounced and you need the time for your own work, schedule an appointment for the next day. Scheduling makeup quizzes and accepting late homework can eat up much of your time and does not teach students responsibility.
  2. If you have a "bad" class one day, then spend extra time preparing for the next class. Everyone has good and bad days, but you don't want to have two bad days in a row.

Supervision and Evaluation

Instructors should regularly provide feedback to teaching assistants on their teaching during the semester. In addition, the following are required: a formal written evaluation done by the Angela Sharp (or faculty member responsible for the course, section, or laboratory taught by the teaching assistant); direct observation of the teaching assistant in the classroom or lab; and follow-up consultation(s) with the teaching assistant. It is the teaching assistants' responsibility to arrange for the students to fill out student evaluations near the end of the semester. These evaluations will be completed by undergraduate students taught by each teaching assistant to evaluate their performance in lecture, laboratory or discussion sections. The results of these evaluations will be returned at the beginning of the following semester. It is advised that the teaching assistant review these evaluation results and reflect on changes possible to make improvements to their teaching.


The Department of Mathematics and Statistics annually gives a teaching award that recognizes teaching assistants for outstanding performance in the classroom. Instructors are encouraged, however, to develop additional ways of rewarding teaching assistants for their contributions. This can be as simple as saying the teaching assistant is doing a good job and their efforts are valued.


In the unlikely event that a GTA is not performing his/her job adequately the following consequences will occur:

  1. The Instructor of the course will ask for a meeting with the GTA. The GTA will be told what is going wrong and given information on how to correct the problem.
  2. The Instructor of the course, the GTA coordinator and the GTA will have a meeting. The GTA will receive written notice that he/she has reached step two of this process, and specific requirements will be given that the GTA must meet.
  3. The Instructor of the course, the Department Head, the Director of Graduate Studies, the GTA coordinator and the GTA will meet in the Department Head's office to discuss the concerns. The GTA will receive written notice that he/she has reached step three of this process, and specific requirements will be given that the GTA must meet.
  4. Upon the fourth offense, the GTA's contract will be reduced to 25% for one semester.
  5. Upon the fifth offense, the GTA's contract for any further teaching services will be terminated.


Reappointment and resignation

You must be in good academic standing to receive a Graduate Teaching Assistantship. To read more about this requirement please visit GTA Reappointment Policy.

If for some reason you want to end your GTA appointment before the end of your contract (e.g., you get a job that begins before the contract expires, or you complete your degree in less than four semesters), discuss the procedures with Jane Lounsberry, Department Head, and/or DGS before you resign. Early resignation may have financial consequences, when not done properly.


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Last modified on 08/27/12 02:45 PM
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