University of Wisconsin–Madison

U-CLASS April 2018 Notes

Your Professor and Teaching Assistant: Are They Playing on the Same Team?

Different approaches between Professor and Teaching Assistant can be a problem for students especially if the instructor and teaching assistant involved are not aware or mindful of those differences.

Student lab volunteers can be more helpful and successful if they are included in planning and conversations along with the teaching assistants for the course.

Seeing a strong relationship between the teaching assistant and the professors makes you want to be a teaching assistant, student tutor, or lab volunteer.

U-CLaSS students in general did not get the sense that their instructors and teaching assistants were on a team, let alone on the same team. Some students even said that it felt like they were taking two different classes, one taught by the professor, and another taught by the teaching assistant. Students said that is sometimes feels like professors don’t really know what’s going on in the various section meetings of a course. It was suggested that they attend from time to time to keep their ear to the ground.

U-CLaSS students reported that some teaching assistants do a much better job than the instructor at helping them “get” the material, and other teaching assistants just reuse the instructor’s slides and repeat the same material presented in lecture.

“Good teaching is good teaching, whether it comes from a professor or a TA, and students know it.” Students recognize good teaching when they see it – without regard to the “status” of the instructor – and they trust, like and learn best from teachers who are prepared and put into use good teaching practices. (Plug for the Teaching Academy programs!)

Observation from a Teaching Academy member at the session: “It struck me during conversations that students seemed to be thinking about and evaluating the structure and purpose of discussion, lab, and lecture as they were answering our questions.  Statements like, “I guess in section there’s more of a chance for…” and “Well, in lecture, the prof. needs to…” or “With the schedule the way it was…” This made me think that we ought to clearly communicate to students the structure of our courses, the purpose of the different segments, and the role of each instructor at the beginning of the semester and reiterate throughout.”

Students want teaching assistants to first and foremost do things that advance their learning and retention of material. They do not want a section focused on learning new material. What might seem boring and repetitive to a professor or teaching assistant is for students part of the learning process. Sections are a time for the right kind of repetition and recall activities that will “make it stick.”

The question also came up: Have you ever interacted with a faculty member?


One very outgoing first-generation college student had been on campus for a year and the U-CLaSS session was the first time he had every talked directly with a Professor. Another student in the conversation agreed, and said that unless you’re unusually outgoing or proactive you can go a very long time on campus without ever actually speaking to a professor. He said he didn’t find the courage or figure out how to do this, until halfway through his sophomore year.

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