The Handbook for Economics Teaching Assistants

The first class with a new group of students is always an exciting time. Both you and the students may feel nervous and shy in the new group. Take the time and effort to make everyone feel welcome and at ease in the class. Establish rapport with the students and develop a positive working environment for all. There are many approaches that GTAs use to do this. Here are some suggestions:

  • "I always introduce myself and give the students my contact details and office hours first. I then go on and ask them to introduce themselves to the class, asking for their name, degree and why they chose this course"
  • "I tried this last term - I said please introduce yourself to the person next to you. Then I asked each student to introduce their neighbour to the rest of the class"
  • "I am lucky, I am teaching a subject close to my research and so I try and tell the students why I love the subject. I ask them what interests them about it and from there explain the syllabus we will be covering"

You may find it useful to have a clear agenda for your first session, to be sure that you remember to:

  • Introduce yourself and provide your contact details;
  • Encourage students to get familiar with each other;
  • Provide an overview of the course, or at least how classes work within the course - including how students need to work with course content and the kinds of skills they may be developing as well;
  • Work with the class to agree "ground rules" and ways you will work together (e.g. discuss expectations around weekly workload/reading, punctuality, meeting assessment deadlines, student contribution to discussions etc. If these matters are not discussed early on, it may be difficult to sort out problems that arise later.);
  • Ensure some time in the first session is devoted to "real" work - ie: subject specialist work; and
  • Set the group up for the coming week (readings, roles, your office hours, their next lecture etc).
  • Mention any online resources that support the course.

Top Tip

An approach that has worked really well for an Economics GTA, is learning names of her students and addressing them during class while discussing the problem sets, using their first names.