All-University TA Orientation Program


As in so many other areas, the Covid-19 pandemic has necessitated changes to the August 2020 Teaching Assistant (TA) Orientation Program for first-time Syracuse University TAs. The Orientation will consist largely of online, asynchronous modules that students will complete independently, along with some synchronous small-group sessions taking place August 17-19 (approximately 1 to 2.5 hours per day). Synchronous sessions will be available in both face-to-face (for those already in Syracuse and ready to participate) and online formats. It will thus be possible for TAs to complete the entire orientation online if needed.

The All-University TA Orientation is designed to provide first-time TAs with an introduction to the role, practical tips for succeeding in it, and resources to aid their growth as teachers. These are a few of the topics we will consider:

  • Appropriate responsibilities and expectations for faculty instructors, TAs, and students
  • Providing effective instruction
  • Grading, other assessments, and providing feedback
  • Engaging students one-on-one, in small groups, in large groups, and online
  • Student diversity and creating an inclusive learning environment
  • Teaching platforms/technologies you will need to know
  • Understanding University policies as they relate to TAs
  • Challenging situations you may encounter
  • Time management and work-life balance

All first-time TAs with an offer letter for Fall 2020 must register for the TA Orientation by July 15. As in any year, a certain number of participants will have competing obligations related to their course of study during the official Orientation dates (August 17-19). If you are aware of any such conflicts, please note them on the registration form. The Graduate School will work with TAs and their departments to mitigate conflicts. The asynchronous TA Orientation components will be available in early August, and it may be advisable to complete some or all of these modules ahead of the official Orientation dates.

A team of experienced Teaching Assistants, selected on the basis of their outstanding performance in the classroom, have been designated Teaching Mentors and will serve as the program’s core instructional staff. Each new TA will be assigned to a small discussion group led by a Teaching Mentor.

All TA Orientation participants will be expected to plan, record, and submit video of a brief (5-7 minute) teaching demonstration in advance of the official Orientation dates (August 17-19). Microteaching videos will be reviewed and discussed in small groups. You may record your video using a smart phone, another video camera, or a video chat platform that enables recording, such as Zoom. Multiple presentation formats are possible. For instance, if you have access to a chalk- or whiteboard, you may use it to replicate a classroom environment; or you may provide narration for a set of slides, as often used to deliver material in online courses. Keep the following in mind when planning your microteaching exercise:

  • Pick a topic that would normally be discussed in an introductory course in your discipline. Assume that you will have a general audience with only very basic knowledge of your subject.
  • Make sure your topic can be covered meaningfully in 5-7 minutes. You might explain a basic concept, illustrate the application of a concept, define a problem, or juxtapose two competing theories or approaches to a problem. Do not choose something that would take weeks to cover in an actual course.
  • Countless examples of microteaching are available on YouTube and elsewhere online. You may also consult a short overview of microteaching featuring Syracuse University Teaching Mentors.

Microteaching videos will be due by August 10. TAs will receive more guidance on microteaching and options for submitting their videos later in the summer.

Some portions of the TA Orientation are specific to international TAs (ITAs). For instance, the Graduate School is responsible for assessing the English language proficiency of ITAs. This assessment takes the form of an interview (~20 minutes) with a panel consisting of a Graduate School representative, an English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) instructor, a faculty member from your program, and an undergraduate student. Please note that your assistantship is not contingent on “passing” the assessment.

The TA Orientation also includes programming that is intended to introduce ITAs to aspects of the American classroom, and higher education in general, that may differ from what they have experienced previously.

Since not all ITAs will benefit from these components of the Orientation, the Graduate School has implemented an exemption process whereby qualified ITAs can be excused from one or both of these requirements.

  • If you have excellent spoken English skills (approaching native fluency) you may qualify for exemption from language assessment. This determination will be made via a brief (<5 minutes) video chat or phone call with a language specialist. To apply for an exemption, complete the Language Assessment / ITA Orientation Exemption Request Form by July 15, 2020.
  • If you have already lived and studied in the U.S. for at least one year (including at Syracuse University), you may apply for exemption from TA Orientation programming for international students. To apply, complete the same Language Assessment / ITA Orientation Exemption Request Form by July 15, 2020.

You may apply for the language exemption, the ITA programming exemption, or both. You will receive notification of your exemption status by email.

TAs who have not previously held an assistantship at Syracuse University may need to verify their eligibility for employment, provide health records, and enroll in or waive benefits.

Center for International Services – a resource for international students.

Barnes Center at the Arch– information on health and wellness, health insurance and health forms.

Fall Open 2020– official source of information about Syracuse University’s plans and important health and safety precautions for the Fall Semester 2020