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The Unofficial Manual for Graduate Teaching Assistants

The Unofficial Manual for Graduate Teaching Assistants

Teaching Introductory Computer Science Courses for Non-majors:

LATE HOMEWORK - When a student turns in his/her project two weeks late and asks for full credit, accept the late work and tell them that it will be awarded full credit. However, do inform them that you will not have time to grade it until after you complete your Ph.D.


  1. If students will not stop talking when the class period begins, announce that there will be a quiz the following day on today's lecture. Then leave.
  2. If your students are prone to reading the school paper in class, try taking out a full page ad in the paper informing them that they are going to flunk your class.


  1. In the event that you are unprepared for a lecture, be sure to use the class time to stress to the class the importance of keeping up with the readings. In fact, spend most of the class time stressing this.
  2. When the time comes to lecture on a subject you know nothing about, the art of controlled digression is invaluable. Here, you try to incite unrelated questions from the class which you answer at length. Then at the end of class scold them for digressing and tell them they'll just have to get the material from the book.


  1. Always use a fire engine red felt-tip marker with a 1/2 inch tip to grade papers. Position your comments strategically so that they spell "DUMB" when seen from a distance.
  2. You may grade assignments however you like. Here is a guide to quick and easy grading: 20 % Name 20 % Penmanship 50 % Homework is stapled together 10 % The work itself Warning: Be prepared for a 60% class average.

GRADING ERRORS - If student A approaches you complaining that an answer on their exam was marked incorrect but was marked correct on student B's exam, promptly mark student B's answer incorrect as well. This will redirect the heat from you onto student A.


  1. If students request extra credit to make up for the homework they didn't turn in, be sure to make the opportunity available to them. Some good extra credit problems are: Solve the dining philosopher's problem, using semaphores. Write a C compiler for the Commodore 64. Translate Moby Dick into ASCII-8 code with a leftmost odd parity bit. Design a replacement for the 80486 chip. Build a File Allocation Table (FAT) out of balsa wood.
  2. You may also wish to tell the student that they can do extra credit work while you decide whether to accept it. When the student turns in the work, decide against it.


  1. When it is obvious to you that several people have copied each other's homework, grade one person's work on a separate sheet of paper, then photocopy your comments onto everyone else's homework.
  2. Should you have very skilled cheaters in your class, try giving incorrect information during your lectures. This should result in incorrect answers on exams. Examples that have proven effective include:
  • The three components of a computer system are Larry, Moe and Curly.
  • The only possible digits in the binary system are 0, 1, and 2.
  • The three components of the CPU are the ALU, REGISTERS and cheap bathroom lighting fixtures.
  • The microphone is an output device.
  • "Booting" the computer involves waving a large magnet over your hard drive for 60 seconds.
  • MS-DOS is the operating system for the CRAY Y-MP.
  • When preparing to purchase a new computer system running Windows, you should make sure it has at least 128,000 bytes of main memory.
  • Protocols include saluting your computer and calling the mouse "sir".
  • CPU stands for Ceramic Public Urinal.
  • Structured Programming says that you can write any computer program using only three basic control structures: Sequence, Selection and Guessing.

LAB - You are expected to spend at least 4 hours each week in the lab to assist with student's questions. Students have been known to come up with some real beauties:

  • "Why should I save it? I wasn't done yet."
  • "My disk erased itself!"
  • " Hurry up, I need help. This was due last week."
  • "Directory? What's that?"
  • "What do I need my textbook for? I'm using a computer." 

Here are the solutions to the most common problems:

  • P: "The screen is blank - I can't see what I'm doing" S: Turn on the monitor
  • P: "How do I get into Windows?" S: Stare at it long enough and it will start to look like candy.
  • P: "I can't get this computer to do anything." S: Have them move to a computer that has a keyboard.
  • P: "The stupid printer printed the wrong file." S: Reprimand the printer.
  • P: "WordPerfect didn't do what I told it to do." S: Tell them they have to earn its respect first.

Macintosh Computers

Macintosh stands for... Most Applications Crash, If Not, The Operating System Hangs.

QWERTY Trouble

Today it became clear to me that the letters 'T' and 'G' are far too close together on the keyboard.

This is why I'll never be ending an email with 'Regards' ever again.

Stupid Insults

  • His pointers are null / uninitialized.
  • His puzzle is missing a few pieces.
  • His reaction time is longer than his attention span. 
  • His root file system isn't mounted.
  • His seat back is not in the full upright and locked position.
  • His shared libraries aren't installed.
  • His signal-to-noise ratio is epsilon.
  • His spark can't jump the gap.
  • His spirit guide is a three-toed sloth.
  • His stack's not very deep / he has an eight-byte stack.
  • His strings aren't null-terminated.
  • His strip is demagnetized.
  • His system administrator is never in.
  • His train tracks aren't quite parallel.
  • His URL denies outside access.
  • His watch dog is sleeping.
  • His wisdom is stolen from bumper-stickers and T-shirts.
  • Hitler's evil twin.
  • Hyperspatially interconnected / permanently disconnected neural net.
  • Hypnotized as a child and couldn't be woken.
  • I'd like to buy him for what he's worth and sell him for what he thinks he's worth.
  • If brains were bird droppings, he'd have a clean cage.
  • If brains were dynamite, she wouldn't have enough to blow her nose / her hat off / the wax out of her ears.
  • If brains were gasoline, he wouldn't have enough to drive a dinky car around the inside of a cheerio.
  • If brains were grains of sand, he couldn't fill a dixie cup.
  • If brains were lard, he'd be hard pressed to grease a small pan.
  • If brains were taxed, he'd get a rebate.
  • If brains were water, hers wouldn't be enough to baptize a flea.
  • If God tried to help him, we'd have an eight day week.
  • If he donated his brain to science, it'd set civilization back 50 years.

Things You Don't Want Your System Admin To Say

  1. Uh-oh...
  2. Oh S***!
  3. What the heck?!?
  4. Go get your backup tape. (You DO have a backup tape?)
  5. That's SOOOOO bizarre.
  6. Wow!! Look at this...
  7. Hey!! The Suns don't do this.
  8. Terminated?!?
  9. What software license?!?
  10. Well, it's doing SOMETHING...
  11. Wow...that seemed fast...
  12. I got a better job at Lockheed...
  13. Management says...
  14. Sorry, the new equipment didn't get budgeted.
  15. What do you mean that wasn't a copy?
  16. It didn't do that a minute ago...
  17. Where's the GUI on this thing?
  18. Damn, and I just bought that Coke...
  19. Where's the DIR command?
  20. The drive ate the tape but that's OK, I brought my screwdriver.
  21. I cleaned up the root partition and now there's LOTS of free space.
  22. What's this "any" key I'm supposed to press?
  23. Do you smell something?
  24. What's that grinding sound?
  25. I have never seen it do THAT before...
  26. I don't think it should be doing that...
  27. I remember the last time I saw it do that...
  28. You might as well all go home early today...
  29. My leave starts tomorrow.
  30. Oops! (said in a quiet, almost surprised voice)
  31. Hmm, maybe if I do this...
  32. Why is my "rm -R *" taking so long?"
  33. Hmmm, curious...
  34. Well, MY files were backed up.
  35. What do you mean you needed that directory?
  36. What do you mean /home was on that disk? I umounted it!
  37. Do you really need your home directory to do any work?
  38. I didn't think anybody would be doing any work at 2am, so I killed your job.
  39. Yes, I chowned all the files to belong to pvcs. Is that a problem to you?
  40. We're standardizing on AIX.
  41. Wonder what THIS command does?
  42. What did you say your user name was?