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Module 6: Teaching assistant experiences

...of the significance of increasing awareness of gender and gender equality in their interaction with students after taking the course.

After taking the course, teaching assistants frequently write that it is important to consider the significance of gender and issues of gender equality for learning, knowledge and teaching. Several examples of what they believe the course in gender awareness has contributed are given below (Source: written submissions from those taking the course between 2012 and 2017).


6.1 Experiences of teaching assistants after taking the course

The course has contributed to:

I. Increased awareness of the significance of gender and gender equality in the interaction with students in groups of all sizes

In the role of teaching assistant, we/I have become more conscious of the significance of:

  • communicating with the students in a correct manner
  • using neutral language
  • showing respect, and refraining from humour at the expense of others
  • reflecting whether the group has any imbalance
  • including all students during a class, laboratory session, group project, etc.
  • being aware of the significance of my own ideas and of behaviour that must be counteracted.

II. Improved interaction between teaching assistants and students

In the role as teaching assistant, we/I have become more conscious of the significance of:

  • treating everyone equally and taking a professional approach when students are friends
  • distributing speaking opportunities equally
  • providing formative feedback to all students
  • stimulating discussion and exchange of experiences between students
  • increasing professionalism through giving a precise description of the role of teaching assistant and/or mentor
  • increasing awareness of how misunderstanding and inefficiency in interactions with students can be prevented
  • reflecting on the significance of using gender-tinted spectacles to see “invisible problems”.

III. Reflections on the significance of gender and gender equality in technical fields

Teaching assistants point out in their reflections that there is now considerable awareness of the significance of gender in society in general. In certain cases, when the groups are homogenous and/or have members of only one sex, the issue of gender and gender equality is seen as difficult.

It is, however, important that teaching assistants, independently of the groups they are working with, remember that:

  • Study motivation can increase if the education and/or the examples being considered maintain close connections with reality, taken from everyday life and from various fields within, for example, industry.
  • Students feel included if they experience: a) that they receive equal opportunities to pose questions, b) that the teaching assistants answer the questions during the class, and c) that they receive comments that help them to understand how they can apply the knowledge acquired during the courses.


6.2 Advice from teaching assistants to teaching assistants

(Source: written submissions from those taking the course between 2012 and 2017)


As a teaching assistant, it is important to maintain a professional approach that takes gender and gender equality into consideration.

A professional teaching assistant is considered to be one who takes a positive standpoint, is knowledgeable, committed  and skilled in explaining, supportive, kind, personable and helpful.

For this reason, a teaching assistant should focus on:


A: Creating an open and equal classroom environment, in which everyone feels secure and able to pose questions


Statements from reflections of those who have taken the course:


“If the students do not feel secure, they do not learn as well. So I try to create a safe laboratory session that is suitable for all.”


“Occasionally, a teaching assistant will know the students from other situations. They may take other courses together; they may have been mentors during Nolle-p; they may be friends. Sometimes these roles are incompatible. Remember that you represent the employer when you take on the role of teaching assistant.”

“A relaxed and open work environment during the classes has meant that everyone has been able to pose questions and participate in the discussions.”


“Think about the language you use. Do not take examples from only one sex; do not take it for granted that a particular field is most interesting for men or for women (such as cars and engines).”

“Do not divide the group into subgroups of women and men. Remember that...”


B: Showing respect for all individuals and adopting a professional role and demeanour when meeting with students to ensure that all feel welcome


Statements from reflections of those who have taken the course

“Avoid humour at the expense of others.”

“Reject all attempts at humour at the expense of others.”

“Consider the significance of stereotypes in different programmes of education. Avoid using examples that are not inclusive.”

“Consider the jargon that you use.” “Your own ideas and the use of ‘laddish’ or ‘girly’ language can lead to misunderstanding.”

“Remember that everyone has a unique background and interests.”

“Consider how speaking time is distributed among the group members.

“Remember that some individuals are more ready to pose questions.”

“Taking more space in the classroom  may not be related to gender. It is, however, important to distribute speaking time such that everyone has the opportunity to pose questions if they want to.”


Remember that every laboratory session and class is unique. There are no generally valid methods that can produce “the most efficient instruction”. The sociocultural status that is prevalent in a group in the classroom is essentially always unique; the environment is unique; and the participants are also unique.


Remember that:

When you work or study at the university you have the right to fair and equal treatment independently of any disability you may have. It is a goal that activities should be carried out in ways that make it possible for each individual to develop, based on his or her personal conditions.


  • Ask the examiner whether any students in the group require supportive measures, such as teaching support.
  • Encourage the students to contact the examiner if they cannot participate in evening labs and classes, or if they need to be exempted from participating in important components.

More information about the definition of disability is available here >>>


6.3 Where can you obtain support?

Teaching assistants, lecturers, the course examiner and the director of studies should be your initial contacts in this situation. They may have similar experiences and may be able to provide support or suggest solutions. It may also be relevant to contact other people.


When someone is subject to victimising or offensive treatment, it is important to know how the process will be dealt with, and whom employees and students can approach for help. It is possible to choose between informal and formal case management. The main objective in both cases is to ensure that the abusive behaviour ceases.

It may be advantageous for all of the involved parties to solve the problem by direct contact with the person, either one-on-one or together with someone else. If support is needed, several people are available for contact, such as:

For teaching assistants and mentors:

  • director of studies
  • examiner
  • student unions (Note: the student unions represent individual students.)
  • Student Health

When abuse has occurred, the principle at LiU is to manage it as closely to the affected person as possible. For students, the director of studies or corresponding person is responsible for handling and, where relevant, investigating the occurrence of abusive treatment.


6.4 Some advice if you feel that you have been subjected to offensive treatment

  • Do not suffer in silence. Confront the person if you can. If you find it hard to tell them in person, write a letter or otherwise show them that you disapprove of their behaviour.
  • You have the right to receive advice, support and information without giving your name. You may not, however, remain anonymous if an investigation needs to be carried out.
  • Tell someone else.
  • Write down the time and place, what happened, what was said and how you reacted. This documentation may be important if there is an investigation.
  • Participate in the investigation and countermeasure processes that are initiated by your superior/director of studies, and accept the support you are offered.
  • More information about case management is available from LiU Equal Opportunities.



1. Facts and figures

2. The teaching assistant

3. Gender in practice

4. Behaviour to be counteracted

5. Examples from courses

6. Teaching assistant experiences

7. Reflection

8. Plan for the gender-awareness course


Do you have any questions or comments? Or if you represent another organization or academy, and want to use this material? Please contact course coordinator:


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Last updated: 2020-06-29