Graduate Teaching Assistant Training – the inside track

At the end of the holidays, having been away from the classroom for a number of years, I turned my attention to getting into the right mindset for the first semester. It was at this moment that an unexpected invitation to participate in the Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) training course presented itself. It would have been easy to say “no thanks, some other time”, but I quickly decided that not only would this be a great way to ‘re-engage’ but it also had the potential to teach an old dog a few new tricks…

Now imagine the sudden trepidation I felt the first morning of the workshops as I entered the lecture room and concluded that I was a bit of an outlier there: the only one in a room of 30 with a receding hairline and more than just a hint of grey! Even John Thorpe, the instructor, had a healthy looking full black mane. Ah, wait, there were a few more people filing in and to my mild relief, I saw another (early) Generation X’er or two. In fact, it was a nice mix of people made up of more than half a dozen nationalities, undergrads and postgrads, representing most departments in the Business School, and again both young and ‘experienced’ individuals.

John kicked things off with a smile and warm Maori welcome. In no time at all, we were off to the races learning about:

• roles and responsibilities of a GTA
• ways to make lectures more dynamic
• strategies for handling ‘sticky situations’
• and other experienced teachers’ tricks of the trade…

And as I had hoped, day one provided me with new skills – e.g. I felt confident I could deliver a lecture that wouldn’t put students to sleep! All delivered by a team of instructors who were second to none.

Day two began with a reminder that we all had a short homework assignment – oops… Apparently, I am not the only one who had forgotten but today’s instructor, energetic Emma, took it in stride and managed to get everyone excited about the effective use of technology in the classroom. To be clear, I was impressed; no expense had been spared to equip the building with the best available and I recall wondering to myself if anyone else in the room has ever had to stay after school as punishment and clean chalkboard brushes…

The third and final day arrived with a busy schedule comprised of what had now become fun tasks along with more helpful insights from the pros.  All the presenters demonstrated engaging and active teaching techniques in the way they delivered each session, which were a great example of what to do in our own teaching. I was particularly appreciative of the personal coaching and many hands-on activities included in the day. As an example, at one point, I found myself working with a second year undergraduate (I am a PhD candidate) and although you might think that the knowledge transfer was one way, this was simply not the case – I learned heaps!

In closing, GTA training courses are held regularly throughout the year and if you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take part, do not make excuses or question your readiness – follow the lead of around 120 GTA certificate holders that came before you – and go for it!


Brad Evans is a PhD candidate in the Marketing Department, returning to study after a career in the business world. He is founding shareholder and Managing Director of ACSG. Brad has held senior roles across continents and industries, including packaged good giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC). After solidifying his big company skill set, he moved to banking technology solutions supplier Phoenix Interactive Design and then to international strategy execution firm KR Strategy. Brad holds an MBA from Ivey Business School/Western University.


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