4 Strategies to Get to Know Your Students as a TA
Starting out in your first semester as a TA can be overwhelming, but, as with most new experiences, things do become easier and more comfortable as time goes by. Being properly prepared to teach is a good start, but getting to know your students well and building a good rapport with them can make a huge difference in your overall experience. Either you'll enjoy coming to class each day and appreciate the immersive learning opportunity or you'll think of being a TA as a necessary chore. Here are some tips for building good working relationships with your students and for ensuring that you and the students are getting the most benefit from your time is class.
Embrace the 3 F's: Friendly, Fair and Flexible
As simple as it is, smiling and being friendly can go a long way towards putting others at ease. At the same time, you want to make sure that you're not showing preference to any particular students by being open and friendly to some, but standoffish to others. Try to give balanced attention to all students and be as attentive as possible to whomever has the floor in classroom discussions.
In terms of establishing order, you want to make it known that you have certain standards and rules that students are expected to adhere to and take seriously. There should also be some firm guidelines on such things as homework and assignment due dates. However, you can still listen to individual concerns or problems and be willing consider infractions on a case by case basis. Doing so helps students to see you in a more favorable light and encourages trust, which is an important component of getting to know your students better.
Engage the Whole Class
Sometimes there are students who seek to dominate the classroom. You might get easily sidetracked by this type of person or get frustrated by his insistence on using up so much class time. But instead of focusing too much attention on this one student or cutting him off when he gets too long-winded, try engaging the rest of the class around this person's questions or comments. Ask the other students what their thoughts are regarding the dominant person's ideas. This allows the controlling student to feel heard without making his classmates feel left out or ignored. The students may even be impressed by your ability to encourage a stimulating dialogue.
Know Students' Names
This, of course, may be difficult, especially if the class is very large, but being able to call students by name can make a huge difference in the level of in-class familiarity and with making students really feel like they matter to you. If students feel as if you'll never even notice whether they come to class or not because you don't know anyone's name, they'll be less motivated to actually show up regularly and give their best effort. Taking the time to memorize your students' names is a simple way to show your genuine concern for them. And if you simply can't manage to remember all of the names, at least try memorizing a good portion of them.
Require Students to Make an Appointment at the Start of the Year
You may view this as a cumbersome process, but getting to chat with each student on an individual basis can work wonders for feeling more connected to them. The meetings don't have to be long, perhaps 15 or 20 minutes. In that time, you can prepare 2 or 3 specific questions to ask your students that will help you to get a clear idea of what their expectations for the class are and what challenges they feel they might face along the way. This, of course, can help you better anticipate and solve problems as they arrive during the year.