Should instructors sit in on labs?

I’m TA-ing again this semester, which means I’m thinking about it a lot. We had (for this university) a pretty late start this semester and labs only started last week.

I’ve been a TA a few times, for undergrad first years, undergrad fourth years, as well as a grad level course. So I’ve been all over the place. This time, I’m TA-ing a course I did before. However, it was a few years ago now, and things have changed. They no longer use the same programming language, and it’s a different prof teaching the course. What that really means, is that the course is absolutely nothing like it was when I TA’d the first time.

Which leads me to today’s question:

Should instructors sit in on labs?

While you wouldn’t think it, this is a controversial topic – I’ve had a few conversations with people about it.

Here’s my stance:

  • I think it’s completely appropriate for instructors to sit in on an occasional lab. However, and this is important, I don’t think it’s appropriate for the first labs.

And here are my reasons why:

  • The first lab is where the TA gets a chance to make their first impression on the students. And this needs to be an impression with some level of authority. Who is the student going to look to if the course instructor is sitting there? This changes the dynamic of the lab.
  • TA’s are nervous about the first lab. This may be the first lab they’ve ever taught, or the first lab they’ve ever taught for that course. They may be worried about whether their students will understand them. They maybe worried about whether or not they can speak knowledgeably on the topic. The last thing they need, is to add being worried what the instructor is going to think, and feeling judged.
  • The first lab is not going to be the best example of a TA’s ability. Most of these labs are full of boring introductory material. This means it’s often more of a regurgitation then actual teaching.

I don’t have a problem with instructors coming and watching their TAs. Instructors have (usually) been teaching for years and can give valuable feedback. But first, give the TA a chance to find their footing before coming to the lab.

When you’ve TA’d, has your instructor sat in on your lab/course? Was it useful?

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