Whether you are a new or experienced instructor, it is important to consider your responsibilities with respect to the particular course you teach. To help you understand how this course fits within your department, consult with the Departmental Executive Officer (DEO) and other faculty members. The following questions are worth exploring together:


Frequently Asked Questions 

The most effective instructors understand the teaching (and learning) goals and objectives of the course and how they dovetail with the larger educational arc of the departmental curriculum. A survey course designed for any student, for instance, is bound to differ in its goals, content, structure, and requirements from a course intended for upper-division majors. As a new instructor, you will find the previous course syllabi, previous exam questions, textbook organization, and conversations with other instructors can provide insights into the course goals and key concepts. 

Every instructor has three primary responsibilities related to their role as instructors:

  • To value teaching and believe in learning— It’s no surprise that good teachers understand their subjects and know how to engage and challenge their students. But regardless of whether they tap dance during every class or are quiet and unassuming, the best teachers also fervently believe that teaching matters and that students can learn (Ken Bain, What the Best College Teachers Do, Harvard University Press, 2004). Many college students believe the best instructors are organized, maintain a passion for the subjects they teach, and care about their students’ learning. Of course, there are many ways to successfully demonstrate these three characteristics, including providing your students opportunities to be actively involved in their own learning inside and outside the classroom (see Basic Principles of Teaching).
  • To encourage open and respectful classrooms/discussion—Instructors should encourage university students to speak and listen to each other with respect, particularly when opinions differ.
  • To act professionally—Instructors are responsible for maintaining open but professional relationships with their students. Because instructors and TAs evaluate students, inherent power differences exist in the instructor/student relationship.

The University of Iowa has a strict policy against sexual harassment, which subverts the school’s teaching-and-learning mission and undermines productive, professional relationships among students, faculty members, teaching assistants, and staff members. Please see the University’s complete Policy on Sexual Harassment. Even a consensual romantic relationship between instructor and student threatens the integrity of the student-instructor relationship, creates a conflict of interest, and causes the perception of undue advantage. Review the University’s Policy on Consensual Relationships Involving Students.

All departments at The University of Iowa require end-of-semester evaluations of teaching to determine students’ opinions about course content, instruction, organization, and to provide documentation of teaching skills for instructors’ resumes and personnel issues. TAs and faculty members can use this information to assess the effectiveness of specific instructional practices and identify areas for improvement and development. The Evaluation and Examination Service provides Assessing the Classroom Environment (ACE) forms, which can be shaped to the instructor’s particular needs. There is also a new online assessment. You should check with your department to determine whether they are using this or the traditional ACE forms. 

You can learn much about your teaching effectiveness from your students. Analyzing results of their quizzes, assignments, and lab reports can help you understand your teaching strengths and challenges.

Various kinds of ungraded, periodic feedback, including minute papers (see Basic Principles of Teaching) or brief questionnaires, also can provide insights about your teaching. Asking students to simply comment on your teaching is unlikely to produce specific information that could help you understand your teaching strengths and challenges. Instead, ask specific questions such as “How can I help you learn?” or “What two things have you learned this week (or during this class period), and what confused you?”

After reviewing students’ answers, thank them for their input and tell them a few of the things you learned from their comments.

You can assess your own development as a teacher by keeping a teaching journal or portfolio (see Teaching (or Professional) Portfolios). Over the course of your college teaching career, a professional portfolio can enable you to see evidence of and reflect on your professional growth. Teaching portfolios are becoming increasingly important in employment searches, tenure, and promotion.

You also may arrange for a Center for Teaching staff member to provide a free, confidential, and voluntary teaching consultation and feedback. 

Your college or department may offer formal training for new instructors and teaching assistants before and during the fall semester. For new instructors, your DEO or your peers in your department (and for TAs, a supervising faculty member or a faculty mentor) also can observe you teach and provide feedback and ideas.

In addition, the Graduate College offers graduate students who are interested in pursuing faculty positions an opportunity to earn a Graduate Certificate in College Teaching

The Center for Teaching staff are also available to help you improve your teaching. The Center for Teaching was established in 1996 to encourage and support excellence in teaching and learning at The University of Iowa. Our services are free, voluntary, and confidential.

  • Each semester we sponsor a number of workshops and institutes to help enhance teaching and learning at Iowa. A poster with information about these events should arrive in your campus mailbox the week before the semester begins. You can find descriptions about and register for workshops on our website.
  • We also offer individual feedback— one-on-one consultations, classroom observations, or more structured teaching evaluations (Classroom Assessment by Student Interview, or “CLASSI”). We do not discuss any aspect of a particular consultation with those who are charged with the evaluation of teaching performance. Except in extraordinary circumstances, we will only reveal that information to a third party upon your request. 
  • Any UI instructor is welcome to use the Center for Teaching lending library, which contains books, journals, and other media about teaching and learning in higher education.

Other chapters in this handbook, including Planning Ahead and the First Day of ClassBasic Principles of Teaching, and Behavioral Expectations, present specific teaching concepts and ideas that you can learn, practice, and adapt to your own needs. Many online resources and listservs that focus on teaching in higher education are also available for you to peruse.

The minimum number of instructor or TA office hours is a departmental policy matter. If you are a TA who teaches a discussion section for a course, the supervising faculty member will let you know his or her expectations about TA office hours. If you are teaching a course yourself, you will want to schedule at least two office-hour sessions per week, preferably one session in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Office hours and office locations should be published in the syllabus (see Planning Ahead and the First Day of Class). Any changes should be announced in class and published on the course website well in advance, if possible.

Just as in their discussion sections or lectures, instructors and TAs can make creative use of their time during office hours. To become familiar with your students and help ease them into the course, you might schedule individual conferences with them during the first month of the course. As the semester continues, you could also use office hours to host small-group workshops or reviews.

Particularly if you lead discussion sections related to a lecture course, you will want to know what the course instructor expects of his or her teaching assistants. Are you supposed to review information presented in lecture? Provide supporting or new material? Review readings, problem sets, homework, discussion questions? Conduct exam reviews?

TAs often lead small discussion sections or labs related to lectures involving large groups of students taught by faculty members. “Small” discussion sections can range from five or six to forty students. You will want to understand how much independence you have in choosing subject matter and whether the course instructor requires students to attend discussion sections.

In addition, most faculty members require their TAs to attend course lectures so they will be able to answer students’ questions about digressions, problems, announcements, and handouts.

You will want to understand how students earn their grades and then make sure they also understand what part of their course effort will be graded and the standards on which their work will be assessed. Beyond that, of course, you need to know whether you have a direct role in grading exams, assignments, lab reports and quizzes. 

Are you responsible for recording other facets of the learning process that may affect grades, such as class attendance, participation, and timeliness? How should grades or other assessments be recorded? Will you be proctoring exams? Will you and other course TAs participate in exercises to help calibrate your grading processes and outcomes?

Experienced TAs sometimes may be invited to teach a course solo. In that role, the TA performs functions similar to a faculty member—organizing and preparing the course goals and objectives; preparing the syllabus; delivering course content (knowledge and skills); creating and grading assignments and exams; holding office hours; etc. Nevertheless, a TA in this role should consult with a faculty member in the department about the course and should rely on that individual for advice about teaching issues that develop during the semester.

Yes, you may well be. Part of your job may entail setting up and putting away equipment, learning how to use technology, locating reference materials and putting them on reserve, updating the course website, attending weekly TA meetings, and participating in professional development workshops and events.