Countdown to Fall Term: 5 Things Returning TAs should be thinking about right now

It’s a little under two weeks to start of the Fall term for us, and the calendar’s starting to get busy! Hopefully, you’ve had a productive summer and been able to get a conference abstract or two written, an article drafted or revised and sent out, a chapter drafted, good reading towards comps, or whatever other goals you set for yourself to meet during the summer. However, even though the summer isn’t quite over, if you are a returning graduate student with a teaching assignment, here are five things you should be thinking about right now and not, say, the weekend before classes start! Handling these items now will help streamline your return to the classroom and keep the beginning of the term from being a mad rush.

  1. If you haven’t already, finalize your Fall syllabi and post them to the digital platform your university uses for classes (we’ve just switched to Canvas.) Consider sending a blast email to your students letting them know the syllabus is posted–this cuts down on the number of emails asking for the syllabus/book list/ what the class will be like.
  2. Check your classroom assignment. The registrar isn’t infallible, and sometimes you’ll get a 45-student class scheduled to meet in a room that only seats 30 (this has happened to me twice now.) Making sure the room is big enough for everyone ahead of time means less confusion in terms of room changes at the start of term. It’s also important to know what the room looks like and what teaching aids are available–is it whiteboard or chalkboard? Does it have a full A/V station with computer and Elmo? Not every classroom on every campus is outfitted the same way, so if you’re counting on certain equipment in order to teach you need to make sure it’s in the room before you are there to use it. Also, if you’re teaching two or more classes in a row, check that the rooms are in the same building, or buildings close enough to each other that you can reasonably get to the next class in timely fashion; if that’s not the case, you can ask your department’s undergraduate administrative assistant to request a change.
  3. Go to the library and put your course booklists on two-hour closed reserve for the term. This is an important courtesy to extend to your students, particularly those on financial aid who can’t necessarily afford to buy their books right away. If you don’t reserve them for the whole course to use, one student will check them all out in the first week and have them for the first month, thus effectively shutting many others out of having access to the materials. In an ideal world, all of your students would have the means to buy the books. This is not an ideal world. You have the power to make it easier for them, and it takes ten minutes to do so. Be that instructor.
  4. Update your email signature with your Fall office hours and contact information. It’s easy to forget to do this! (Ask me how I know……) Also, if you have one, check your office space/ cubicle to ensure you know where it is and that it’s ready to be occupied (i.e. not filled with the last TAs leftover things.)
  5. If it’s a job market year for you, you MUST have your CV, dissertation abstract, teaching philosophy, and a base letter to work from all polished and ready to go before the term starts. This is non-negotiable. You are not going to have the time or the mental effort to devote to these crucial documents while also teaching and trying to finish up the dissertation. Ideally, you’ll have already been working on these documents and had your advisor and/or your department’s job search committee members looking over them; if not, it’s time to send them to your advisor for feedback.

What other tips can you offer for a smooth start of term for TAs?

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About Melissa Ridley Elmes

I am a medievalist, wife and mother of two who spends her days researching, writing, teaching, painting, singing, dancing, acting and trying to find more hours in a day.
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