A TA Shirking Responsibility

This Q&A was adapted with permission from the book Chalk Talk: E-advice from Jonas Chalk, Legendary College Teacher, edited by Donna M. Qualters and Miriam Rosalyn Diamond –


Dear Jonas,

I’m having problems with the TA for my course. First, it turns out that he graded and returned the first round of papers without keeping a record of the grades. Then, he went to an out-of-state family reunion one week before an exam, and was not available to run a timely review session. Due to an apparent glitch with the airlines, he returned several days later than expected, but communicated that to no one. For the second assignment, a few students have e-mailed and come to me complaining that he added up the points incorrectly on a number of papers. I see a disaster happening. What can I do?

Signed: On the Road to Perturbation


Dear On the Road to Perturbation,

It sounds like either your TA doesn’t understand the obligations of his job, or that he is unmotivated to carry them out. I suggest you meet with him ASAP to determine which is the case.

Often, TA’s are at the very beginning of their careers and have never held professional positions. It is important that you provide coaching about job expectations, such as the fact that he needs to keep his supervisor informed when he has to be away. Make sure he knows that – unless he is dealing with an emergency (and you might want to give concrete examples of what that includes)- he should ASK if the timing of his absence is ok with the rhythm of the course. Give him a list of critical times in the class when you are relying on him to run review sessions, grade, and perform other duties. Let him know if it is his responsibility to find coverage by other TA’s if he can’t be there,

Have you outlined your expectations for him regarding grading? Make sure he understands that you expect him to keep a record of student grades. If you provide him with a pre-formatted spreadsheet or grade-book, it may give him the structure and reminder he needs. You also might want to spend time clarifying grading rubrics, and emphasize the importance of re-checking his math before finalizing the grades.

Another issue could be that he is simply unmotivated to carry-out his responsibilities. He may take his assignment for granted, and not realize that a Teaching Assistantship is a job, not simply a source of funding. Clarify for him that there he has to fulfill his part of the bargain in order to earn the funding that comes with the position.

Also, he should be informed that the skills one picks up from TA-ing (public speaking, training, coaching, evaluating performance) are assets in any profession. So, regardless of whether he is planning a career in academia, he should plan to get as much out of this opportunity as possible.

If none of the above interventions seems to make much difference, I suggest you check with your department to determine whether – after a warning and if things still don’t improve – he can be terminated from his position.

Good luck!


Quick Tip

Prior to the start of classes, give your TA’s a written list of what is expected of them.


This content was adapted with permission from the book Chalk Talk: E-advice from Jonas Chalk, Legendary College Teacher, edited by Donna M. Qualters and Miriam Rosalyn Diamond.

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