Hannah Morgan>Sophomore>Journalism>University of Maryland, College Park
You walk into your first day of class, and you see a cutie sitting in the front of the room. You ask the guy next to you who it is; turns out she’s your TA. Or you walk into math discussion, and the kid in the front of the room is blabbering on about differential equations in what can barely pass as English. Your new T.A.
What are the true stories behind our teaching assistants? What are they like outside of the classroom? Do they actually do all of the readings?
Hannah Kaplan, a psychology and Spanish double major at Washington University in St. Louis, was asked by her academic advisor to be a T.A. for a class called FOCUS: Global Cultures and the Individual. She accepted the offer because she had enjoyed the class the semester before.
“It was nice working so closely with my two professors that taught the class because I had known them pretty well when I was a student in the class, but I felt that they got to know me better through T.A.-ing. We would often debrief things that happened in class and it was helpful to hear their opinions on tricky issues,” Kaplan said.
Graduate student Laurie Blaisdell was a T.A. at Brigham Young University when she was an economics major there as an undergrad. She wanted to get to know the economics professors on a personal level and further master the material better as a T.A., because, “the best way to learn about economics is to explain it to others,” she said.
Assuming an authoritative role with students so close to their own ages is not always an easy task for T.A.s.
“I think the trickiest part of being a T.A. was balancing being an authority figure while also wanting to form friendships with the students,” Kaplan said.
“I also found it challenging to be in a position in which people listened so much to what I was saying. I sometimes felt that since I was the T.A., my comments had to be ‘smart,’ but there were times in which I had no clue what to say, just like the students,” Kaplan said.
AnhTu Luu, a junior biochemistry and biology double major at Mount Saint Mary’s University is a T.A. for an organic chemistry class.
“Sometimes it’s hard to be authoritative with students that are the same age [as you],” she said. Luu makes a sincere effort to be warm and open with her students, and to explain things in a careful and thoughtful way.
Blaisdell, on the other hand, was a T.A. for students who were older than she. Where many students would shy away from challenging the traditional collegiate hierarchy, Blaisdell remained unfazed: “I was hired to T.A. because I knew the subject well and that was really the only authority I needed,” she said.
But what happens if T.A.s need help? How do they balance their own coursework, extracurricular activities and social lives with paper-grading and answering questions?
Blaisdell remembers that the most hectic times for students are also the most hectic for their T.A. “You have to work more right before tests and finals because of the extra review sessions and grading,” she said. “If you plan ahead it’s not so bad though.”
There have to be some benefits to all of this work, right?
“Working with a professor is good if she’s nice and you have a close relationship,” Luu said. Proving that one can be responsible and explain the course material can help set teaching assistants up for research work with professors later on in their careers.
With the benefits of developing a strong relationship with professors, meeting tons of new people on campus and getting a little bit of authority, who wouldn’t want to be a T.A.?
Images courtesy of masterfile.com and betterschoolsearch.com.