In my department, we hire graduate TAs as both graders and teaching assistants. The teaching assistants are assigned to lead discussion sections that meet twice per week. The graders are assigned to grade all of the homework and exams.

The department requests that both TAs and graders spend three hours in the academic skills center. During these three hours, students can basically ask the grader/TA whatever they want.

My current assignment is an upper division undergraduate course. Many of the students aren't prepared for the course difficulty (ten hour homework assignments, projects, and exams). Inside the academic skills center, I am asked frequently about how to do homework problems when I am not a TA.

How should I handle this situation? Am I responsible for helping students do every single individual homework problem before the assignment is due? I thought that a grader would solely be responsible for grading homework. I spent a nontrivial amount of time helping students do their own homework.

Should graders have some sort of protection from these scenarios? I don't know why an undergraduate student would ask the grader grading their homework for help.

3 Answers 3


This is really a question for the professor(s) in charge of the course. You can and should get specific direction from them.

However, just for background and context. A lone professor in a smaller class will find him/herself in this situation frequently. It is unlikely that it is wise to not answer at all, but also unwise to give such specific hints that student learning ceases and the student just follows directions.

But it may take some experience to be able to balance the needs (and also to keep the prof happy). In general, you can think about the question you were asked, and before answering it, ask yourself whether the student has an unmet need that generates that question. Do they have a misconception? Have they missed an important reading? Something. I suspect that it is generally fair to address those needs rather than "helping" them with the specific assignment. Even giving them an easier task that might help them understand where they are and why they are having problems might be suitable.

The base line is, don't get in the way of their learning just to help them complete a specific task.

But you might check even this advice with the prof. You might also cause more specific training to be provided to you are your fellow graders/TAs.


I thought that a grader would solely be responsible for grading homework.

Then it appears you misunderstood the expectations of your job.

Job titles like "grader" are loose and don't necessarily describe the complete set of duties expected of a person holding that role. (A "professor" does much more than just "professing"!) It's certainly very common for a student to be hired for a job which includes both grading and helping students with questions, and sometimes other duties besides. It seems that at your school, this job is simply called "grader" for convenience. The assumption is that both grading and helping students require a certain level of expertise with the course material, so somebody qualified for one should also be qualified for the other.

If they assigned you to spend time in the skills center, the implicit expectation is that you are to spend this time assisting students who come to the center looking for help. In particular, you should not plan to spend this time working on grading (unless no students show up). Grading time would be on top of this and you should plan accordingly. So no, there isn't any kind of "protection" from doing what is simply part of your job.

Assisting students at the center may also be one of the duties of a TA, but that doesn't mean that you can't be asked to do it too. It seems clear that there's plenty of this work to go around.

Note that assisting doesn't necessarily mean answering questions - if a student just asks you "what's the answer to problem 6", you should not answer that question directly! But you should work with the student to help them learn what they need in order to solve the problem on their own. There is a fine line between helping and giving away answers, and you'll get better at it with experience. You can also talk with the professor or TAs to get some guidance.

If you really don't like this task, you have the right to quit your job (unless you have some sort of binding contract). But many people find working with students to be valuable experience, especially if you have any interest in a career involving teaching. It also helps develop your communication skills, and tends to help deepen your understanding of the topic of the course.

(If you have some sort of written contract that specifies that a grader is required only to grade homework/exams and nothing else, then you might have some remedies through HR or a union or some similar structure. But I doubt that this is the case.)


Yes, if you are there in an office hours type of setting where students may ask anything, then you should expect they will ask anything, including questions about homework. And you should be prepared to answer them.

When helping students with homework, your objective should be to help them understand the material well enough to do the assignment on their own. You should not do their work for them. So, instead, it's more about identifying and coaching them through the parts where they're stuck, perhaps going over the lecture material they didn't understand well enough.

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