Department of Religious Studies

Before the Course

Introductions, Course Design, and Pedagogical aspirations and expectations.


Once teaching assistants have been assigned to a course, teaching assistants and instructors are encouraged to introduce themselves to each other. TAs will likely describe their teaching experience and research interests. Instructors may also wish to describe their teaching and research interests, or share the current draft of the course syllabus and invite the assistant(s), when appropriate, to offer feedback. Instructors generally strive to help their TAs understand the intellectual and pedagogical thinking behind the course and its design; by helping TAs achieve such an understanding, instructors can enable TAs to participate in the unfolding of a course more fully. 

This first meeting plays a vital role in educating graduate students about course design as well as in determining if and how the course may relate to the student's own area of expertise. Since the latter point profoundly shapes the TAs experience, it should be kept in mind throughout the planning and conduct of the course.

Course Design

After sharing the syllabus (or discussing the course) with teaching assistants, instructors may wish to invite TAs to offer any constructive comments, questions, or suggestions regarding course design or requirements. When appropriate to the student's expertise, instructors ordinarily provide TAS with the opportunity to lecture or lead class during periods of the course that they find most interesting or relevant to their own studies. This will typically involve one or two class sessions per semester.

Pedagogical Aspirations and Expectations

If the course to which a TA is assigned falls outside of his or her subfield, the TA is encouraged to consider how that factor might influence her or his approach to the teaching assignment. This is especially relevant for those occasions in which a TA from outside the department is working with an RS instructor, or when an RS student is acting as a TA outside the department; both scenarios may require additional communication with instructors about how best to work with these guidelines in mind. In general, as future faculty members, TAs likely will be tasked with teaching a course outside their areas of specialization. As a result, TAs should see teaching assignments outside their particular subfield (whether in RS or not) as an opportunity to stretch both intellectually and pedagogically. Recognizing that TAs own interests and experiences will orient their understanding of and approach to the course, instructors are encouraged to be in dialogue with TAs about how to approach their teaching assignment.

Topics for Discussion

Ideally, the faculty member and TA(s) will meet in person at least once prior to the beginning of the semester. Topics for discussion might include:

  • Informing the TA about the syllabus, which may be in draft form.
  • Establishing with as much precision as possible the TA's and faculty member's respective responsibilities in the course.
  • Deciding whether there will be a class metting, in addition to sections, when the TA might lecture and/or lead discussion (usually 1-2 per semester).
  • Grading expectations and responsibilities.
  • Expectations for office hours (e.g., how many and where -- keeping in mind recommendations from the Graduate School regarding maximum hours TAs should devote to a course, in total).
  • The instructor's views on whether graduate students can grant extensions, set attendance policy, etc.
  • Undergraduate students' options for recourse if they should have concerns about the TA or grading.
  • Expectations regarding communication outside class, i.e. when each may be available via email and/or phone. 
  • Expectations regarding the work load and discussion of how to manage competing demands and protect the TA's time (see above regarding Graduate School recommendations). TAs should also consult with the DGS (non-RS TAs are encouraged to consult both their own DGS, as well as the relevant RS faculty member) about any issues that arise in managing time commitments.
  • Relations or responsibilities among multiple TAs (if applicable).
  • Emergency contact information (usually available through the department Main Office).
  • Plans for observing TA over the course of the semester.
  • General courtesy regarding advance notice about any classes that will be missed by either the TA or instructor.
Logistical support, discussion sections, teaching observation, drafting assignments and exams, feedback on grading, teaching assessment, and regular meetings.