Logistics of Teaching Large Courses: Part 2. recruiting your teaching staff
December 2018 (perspective of an assistant professor)
The first logistical task when setting up your course is recruiting your teaching staff. A large course may have up to a dozen (or more!) staff ranging from graduate student TAs (teaching assistants) to undergraduate TAs to lab assistants to part-time graders. Good TAs can make your job much more enjoyable since they can take on more logistical responsibilities and let you actually focus on your teaching. But bad TAs can be a drain on your energy and a huge disservice to your students' education.
Given how important your teaching staff is, how can you recruit good TAs? Well, the bad news is that if it's your first time teaching at your university, you probably won't be able to choose your own TAs. You won't know anyone when you arrive, and TAs will have likely been selected already. Even if you're given a list of candidates to choose from, you won't know anybody in the department yet, so you'll have no idea who's good or not. One way to start filtering is to ask for feedback from professors who have had those candidates as their TAs in the past. But those signals aren't ideal, so you should just expect to not have an optimal staff in your first year. Do your best but don't sweat it.
However, after your first term teaching, you should proactively recruit your own TAs as much as possible and not leave things up to random chance. Here's whom I tend to recruit:
In contrast, these probably aren't the best TA choices for you:
Again, despite your best efforts, you won't have an ideal teaching staff every term, since there are probably more spots to fill than optimal candidates. Just roll with it, and expect the unexpected.
Lastly, I've found that if you develop a reputation as a good teacher and mentor, then you'll have an easier time finding good TAs in the future, since the best students will be more motivated to work with you. Like it or not, your reputation will quickly spread throughout the student population via word-of-mouth, so the more you invest early on in running your courses well, the easier time you'll have in finding good TAs for future terms, which helps your courses run even better! And conversely, if you always seem to be having a hard time finding good TAs, maybe take a hard look at how you've been teaching in the past.Next part: Logistics of Teaching Large Courses: Part 3. designing your course calendar and policies
Appendix: why do students want to TA?
I think it's important to understand why students want to serve as TAs so that you can help them achieve their professional goals. I've found it useful to simply ask them why they want to TA. Here are some example motivations:
Remember that your TA staff is itself made up of students, so it's important for you to be a good teacher and mentor to them too.