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TA Coaches in the Mathematical Sciences: Exploring Their Roles and Their Perceptions
Gary A. Olson, Leigh Harrell-Williams, Scotty Houston, Melinda Lanius, Michael Jacobson, David Shannon
TA Coach Role
Improving the teaching skills of graduate teaching
assistants (GTAs) in the mathematical sciences is a
powerful way to positively impact learning outcomes
for the undergraduates they teach during graduate
school and those they will teach later as faculty.
Similar to the paired teaching approach to help new
faculty adopt active learning strategies (Strubbe et
al., 2019), a peer instructional TA coach (hereafter
“TA Coach”) is a unique element of a graduate
teacher training program.
The role of the TA Coach was initially developed
at one institution to provide in-class support for
GTAs new to facilitating active learning strategies in
the classroom. It was subsequently defined more
broadly for flexibility across partner institutions with
the overall goal to work together with GTA trainees
and department faculty to provide support in areas
of individual or department-wide need, as
determined by each institution.
Work Supported
IUSE Projects
and #1821619
Scope of the Full Training Program
Promoting Success in Undergraduate Mathematics
through Graduate Teaching Assistant Training
(PSUM-GTT) employs a multi-component approach
to training, including a seminar on teaching with a
focus on equity and inclusion, a Critical Issues in
STEM Education seminar series, one-to-one peer
mentoring, support from a peer TA coach, and visits
to K-12 mathematics classrooms and enrichment
The program was launched at the University of
Colorado Denver in 2016, with support from the
NSF (award 1539602). In 2019, the program was
introduced at Auburn University and the University
of Memphis with NSF funding (awards 1821454,
1821460, 1821619). Program leaders from all three
universities work together to coordinate program
implementation and refinement as well as research
on program experiences and outcomes. More
information is available on the project ResearchGate
page, accessible by using the QR code below.
Mentor vs TA Coach
While mentor-mentee conversations facilitate support and resource
sharing (Browne-Ferrigno & Muth, 2012) and provide mentees with
constructive criticism after classroom observations (Yee & Rogers, 2017),
mentors are not necessarily tasked with being instructional coaches to
assist with entire lesson plan development and implementation, like K-12
instructional coaches. Additionally, whereas a mentor is encouraged to
frequently meet with a mentee, a TA Coach might only have a few
scattered interactions with a GTA over the course of a semester. Hence,
a TA coach is a unique element of a graduate training program.
What is the TA Coach Role at each
What are unique benefits the TA Coach
role provides to the GTAs they assist?
What are unique benefits the TA Coach
perceives in their own instruction and
development as faculty?
Data Collection & Participants
Four TA Coaches at the original institution were asked to free-form
journal during their time as TA Coach. Three TA Coaches (one at each
institution) were interviewed in Fall 2021.
Reflexive Thematic Analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006, 2019; Campbell et
al., 2021) was used to explore all data sources for themes regarding GTA
descriptions of their roles and benefits to the GTAs they assisted and
their own development as a mathematical sciences educator.
Develop active learning materials
Observe GTAs in classrooms and support
GTAs using new activities or pedagogy
Manage and organize active learning
materials closet
Co-teach one course per semester with a
faculty mentor
Provide a broad view of GTA instruction to
target areas for further support
Share successful activities, pedagogy and
methods used across a variety of sections
Support activity development and refinement
for new GTAs
Broadening view of instructional role: viewing
teaching as a full time job
Activity resources to take into faculty position
Daily mentoring and support from co-teacher
improves confidence and teaching skill set
Observe GTAs in classrooms
Remind GTAs of reflection journaling and
observation due dates
Arrange meetings to share ideas between
sections of a course
Teach one course each semester
Provide team building within the department
as opposed to one-on-one support
Provide additional support to new mentors
Improved teaching with an increased
exposure to a variety of teaching methods
across classroom observations
Develop empathetic leadership abilities and
experience through a role requiring listening
Remind GTAs of reflection journaling and
classroom/tutoring observation due dates
Lead meetings of GTAs to discuss themes
from reflection responses
Teach one course per semester or tutoring
center hours (semester dependent)
Support GTAs confidence in teaching
Provide extra teaching support during
“I want to find ways to feel like I am having an impact on their teaching in SOME way. I want them to feel like they are trying new things,
growing towards a certain goal, and/or feeling more comfortable talking about teaching.” - Former TA Coach
Provide opportunities for professional
Develop their personal leadership style
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.