Starting Off on the Right Foot:  A Guide for New TAs
Timeline:
a few days before the very the remainder
classes begin first day of the semester
As a general rule, these are the processes to follow in each time period:
~brainstorming give clear, effective, & explicit ~follow-through
~making decisions, planning ~communications ~reinforce
~preparing ~introductions ~practice
We want to take a look at different categories within each of the three timeframes to help
you stay organized throughout the semester.  Some of these categories are as simple and
straightforward as memorizing names, but others are as complex as classroom management
and trouble-shooting.  Let's start simple to see how the concept of the timeline works. 
Names--Why are they important?  Discuss.
a few days before the very the remainder
classes begin first day of the semester
           
~familiarize yourself w/ names ~call roll on 1st few days, even ~practice names when handing
on your class list   if you won't normally do this out or collecting papers  
~ask other TAs for help   ~write pronunciations or ~set goal to know ALL students
pronouncing difficult names preferred nicknames on your roll by a certain date  
The chart shows you that your classroom goals need to be worked on consistently from today
all the way through to the end of the semester.  It can be applied to almost any topic you can
think of!
Enthusiasm & Energy--What makes this essential?
a few days before the very the remainder
classes begin first day of the semester
                 
~skim textbook; try to recall ~speak generally about the ~don't be shy--if you like a
when you took a similar course course and the topics you certain topic, make this evident
    plan to cover with your words and behavior.
*  Did the teacher do anything ~tell students what they'll have Don't tell students if you hated
memorable to help you learn? accomplished by the end of the something; that could set
*  Were there any parts that you course and why it's useful them up for failure  
found cool or interesting? ~stress that math is a new ~tell them how the material
*  Did some topics present language for many of them, and relates to everyday life  
difficulties or challenges to you? it expands your mind by ~change examples in the book
*  Think of how you use this challenging it to think in to make them relevant  
type of math in your daily life different ways ~reassure them that with time,
    patience, and perseverance, the
    lightbulb will come on, and they
    should feel very proud when this
            happens    
Thus far, the discussion has been about fun and happy times, but eventually you will run into
problems.  Many can be avoided with careful planning.  Try to anticipate as many as possible
and have a plan for dealing with them.  However, no amount of planning can completely protect
you, so be flexible in case of surprises.  Most of these problems revolve around students not
following your…
Rules & Expectations
a few days before the very the remainder
classes begin first day of the semester
           
~define clear expectations and    
rules in your mind as you      
picture your ideal classroom -   -  
~decide definite consequences    
for students who don't follow    
your rules                
Although there are only two seemingly simple things to do ahead of time, it is essential that you
be thorough in your brainstorming.  Here are some questions to consider to get you started:
Classroom Behavior
Will you allow students to come in late or pack up and leave early?
How much talking will you tolerate?
Are you going to wake up a sleeping student?
How will you handle someone who is disrespectful of you or their peers?
Will you let students eat, drink, answer cell phones, etc. in class?
Grading
How will you calculate final grade?  (Give percentages!)
Will you accept late assignments?
If so, exactly how many points will you take off per day late?
Makeup Policy
Is there a deadline on making up missed assignments, or will the student receive an automatic 0?
Will you make up an entirely new test, or will other grades weigh more heavily?
Will you consider special cases, like students who can furnish an authentic doctor's note or funeral
program?
Cheating and Academic Misconduct
In your opinion, what constitutes cheating?
What specific action will you take?
Is there a different appropriate action depending on the worth of the assignment (i.e. copying
another student's homework vs. cheating on the final exam)?
Your course coordinator might dictate the specific grading plan (s)he wants you to use, but the
rest of these questions represent personal choice.  Try to answer these thoroughly and come up
with some questions of your own.
For example, I get angry when students pack up early or leave before I dismiss the class.  This
is extremely disruptive to other students, and then they can't focus on the rest of the lesson.
To prevent this problem, I tell my class ahead of time that if a student leaves early, I will
immediately give an easy pop quiz to the remaining students.  Those in attendance receive a
100.  Others, a 0.
Rules & Expectations (continued…)
a few days before the very the remainder
classes begin first day of the semester
           
    ~communicate expectations    
    effectively and explicitly with    
    help from your syllabus    
  -   ~read important points out   -  
    loud    
    ~start out strict; you can    
    always ease up during the    
    semester, but it's much harder    
    to start out easy and try to    
      regain control later        
The syllabus is a very useful tool for outlining the semester and establishing guidelines.  Here
are steps you can follow to create your very own work of syllabus art!
1.  Take the syllabus given to you by your coordinator (usually sections to be covered and a
selection of homework problems) and personalize it with your:
Name (as you want to be called)
Office Hrs/Location/Phone (no home #s!)
Email Address
2.  Now, add any of the aforementioned items you think are important.  (I add all 4.)  Be explicit!
Example of statements you might make:
BAD:  open-ended statements like "cheating will not be tolerated"
GOOD:  "Cheating on any assignment will result in a grade of 0 for that assignment with no
option to withdraw from the course.  A letter will also be sent to the Dean of Students, who will
determine if additional punishment is to be enforced."
3.  Optional *HINT*
I got this idea from my father, Richard Roscher, a college professor down in North Carolina:  I  
attach a sheet to my syllabus clarifying items that are conveniently "misunderstood".  It gives
my definition of academic misconduct, examples of cheating, and my makeup policies.  The
students have to sign and date the paper saying they understand what they've read, and then I
keep it on file for the rest of the semester.  This way, they can't complain that I didn't warn them
ahead of time and plead ignorance to my rules.  This has been extremely effective in preventing
cheating, warding off sudden exam-time illnesses, and reducing my stress level.
Rules & Expectations (continued…)
a few days before the very the remainder
classes begin first day of the semester
                 
  -     -   ~enforce fairly  
To fairly enforce your policies, follow one simple step:  Do whatever you said you would do in
your syllabus!  Be aware that some students will take advantage of relaxed policies.  Start out
strict.  You can always ease up during the semester, but if you begin too relaxed, it's nearly
impossible to tighten your rules midway through and regain control. 
If you think this will be difficult for you, read on…
Strict policies made me feel uncomfortable and mean until I realized the students actually
CRAVE order and well-defined rules.  Most are straight out of high school, and are accustomed
to functioning within a very structured environment.  They may not outwardly act like this, but
the students WANT you to say something to others who are causing distractions.  They WANT
you to lower another student's grade for turning a project in late.  Most students play by the
rules and feel a huge sense of unfairness and injustice if less concientious students don't have
to face any consequences.  The most valuable piece of advice I've received from a student so far
on evaluations was "Don't put up with anybody's crap."  You have a duty to protect those
students who are honest and hardworking, so ensure that EVERYONE plays by the rules and
will be held accountable for inappropriate actions. 
*HINT*
Brainstorm your worst fears and all the things that could possibly go wrong.  Figure out a plan
for dealing with each problem and visualize yourself handling it succesfully.  If you are caught
off-guard and are uncomfortable about dealing with a sticky situation on the spur of the
moment, tell the student you will discuss the problem at a later date (in the near future).
Meanwhile, enlist the help of other TAs and professors.
Your First Day as a Teacher--Remember to Smile!
If you tend to get very nervous, write down guidelines to get you through your first day.
Sample First Day
1.  Get to school early and go over your lesson plan in your office until it's time for your class.
2.  When you get to the classroom, say "Hi" or "Good morning" to calm yourself down, and write
your name on the board the way that YOU want to be called.  Make sure to pronounce
it for them!  Either go by your first name, or Mr/Ms ________.  Most TAs go by their
first names, but I went by Ms. Moss all of last year, and it worked great.  It's a subtle
way to establish authority if you look very young or are worried that your tendency is to
be too friendly with the students. 
3.  Hand out syllabus and go over the sections on grading, makeup work, cheating, etc.  This is 
a good time to let them know if you have any pet peeves regarding classroom behavior.
4.  Call roll and begin to memorize names.  To make you and the students less nervous, spend a
couple minutes figuring out who lives closest and who lives farthest away (hometowns). 
5.  Introduce yourself, saying where you're from and some non-math interests & hobbies that might
by easy for them to relate to.
6.  Begin teaching, and teach until the end of class time.  If you let them out early the first day, they
will pack up early every day thereafter!
7.  Spend the remaining 2 minutes doing a quick recap of material or assigning HW.