Posted by: LovelyAnomaly | August 18, 2009

Lovely goes to Grad School

On Monday I begin grad school.

I repeat.

On Monday I begin grad school.

I’m not sure what will happen to this blog.  But I’m going to be working a lot on this thing called time management.  And unfortunately Twitter, tumblr, and this little blog might get neglected for a little bit.  It’s nothing personal.  It’s just an omg-how-do-I-handle-this? type of thing.

I will be a teaching assistant for 3 courses.  It’s a level of responsibility that I really hope I’m ready to undertake.  I’m excited to meet my advisor and I’m anxious to start my graduate project*.  But, holy crap you guys, I’m only slightly less than terrified about teaching 3 courses.

These past two days have been filled with lectures and meetings about being a capricious grader and ethics mumbo-jumbo.  But I need one more lesson.  I need your help.

Think back to your favorite TA in college.  What made them great? What separated them from the rest of the bunch?

[*Hell no, I’m not writing a thesis.  I’m developing a new program that will be produced,  judged, and ultimately used by the community.  Rock on.]


  1. holy CRAZY that is soon! don’t worry, a lot of us know that gradschool tends to take over lives so we’ll know you’re not dead, just busy.

    and my favorite TAs all had one simple trait in common: they were genuinely into the subject matter, and it showed when i asked them questions. passion is important, because that motivates us kids to pay attention to what you’re talking about.

  2. Wow. I start on Tuesday and am having some anxiety, but I won’t be teaching.

    My best TA was very knowledgeable, interested in the subject matter, put in a lot of preparation work, and was great at guiding us through a difficult Latin passage without doing it for us. She was actually a better Latin teacher than some professors I’ve had (but don’t let word get out about that).

    I was not a great TA. I’ve learned a few things that don’t work so well. I was not at all good at developing a rapport with a group of students; I’m very shy and am usually okay one-on-one, but in my classroom, if I made a joke and no one laughed or if I asked a question that no one answered, I’d just stand there awkwardly. I also was not assertive enough to really take the lead in the classroom. One day went really well when I asked them to do group work, though.

    To make it short, advice learned from my mistakes:
    Try and develop a rapport with you class. If it feels awkward, move on; don’t just stand there awkwardly.
    Don’t be afraid to be assertive when you need to.
    If your class is structured the way mine is (discussion section), and people don’t respond to one way of doing things, try something new (like I did with group work) and see how it turns out.

  3. For me, at least, these were things that made a TA stand out:
    -Know the material. The students know when you’re faking it and don’t know enough.
    -Be prepared, but not rehearsed.
    -Have fun. If it’s a chore for you, it’s a chore for the students.
    -Be yourself. Maybe this is just me, but anything fake immediately turns me off to listening to what someone has to say.
    -Be hot.*
    -Be approachable. If the students know that they can talk to you, they are more likely to try to get a better understanding of what you’re teaching.

    Also, a bit of unsolicited advice from the flip side of this (i.e. what I learned while being a TA):
    -Don’t be afraid to take control when you need to. If a student is distracting to you, they are probably distracting to other students as well. I called out a student and then kicked him out once and had other people thank me for it after class.
    -You are going to have some students that no matter how hard you work and how well you think you’ve done, will not care or will not grasp the material as well as you think it should. Don’t take this too personally.
    -You are going to have some students that love what you teach them, understand everything immediately and are desperate to drink up any more information about the subject. Don’t this too personally, either.

    *I may have added this one just to be funny, but–let’s face it–it’s not like it’s gonna hurt.

  4. When I was a TA, my students all thought I rocked and brought me out for beer with them etc. etc.

    How it got to be that way?

    Grading: I grade hard but fair. I mark everything and explain what is wrong with it. I set up a template with expectations of what I want to see and points they NEED to hit on in their answers, this way I don’t give one person credit and not another. Make it so that they aren’t getting 100% at the beginning, that they have to improve their skills to get up to that.

    Lecturing: Be clear. As someone said above, if you don’t know the material, you won’t be able to teach it. Know the material! Then you can teach it casually.
    I usually showed up still out from the night before wearing god-knows-what… but I’d show up with a box of Krispy Kremes and the first five minutes of class were silent as everyone munched away – good time for announcements and basic overview. Once everyone was done, we’d discuss the details and then work on them.

    Criticism: No one likes to be wrong, so use constructive criticism at all times. If it’s a technique you are teaching, tell them their way works, but it works better if you do it this way… kind of stuff.

    Students: Some will be awesome. Some will struggle. Some just won’t care. I’ve tried to interest those who don’t care to no avail. Teach at a pace that keeps those ahead so they’re not bored, but not so fast that you lose those that are struggling.

    Office Hours: You should probably be available for a certain number of hours each week for questions. I just gave out my phone number and said call up until 2am, after that I’ll be sleeping. I met students on campus, had phone consultations, as well as met students off campus at a coffee shop to help them with their work. I think this is one of the most important parts of the job – making sure that people are understanding the work they are doing before it gets graded because lets face it, no one ever goes back and corrects their assignments and exams unless they have to.

  5. Oh wow, I would feel the same way. I am hoping to hop on the TA train next fall. Best of luck dear and I’ll look forward to reading about how your experience goes.

  6. Good luck (and maybe I’ll see you around campus)! I think your thesis alternative sounds far more interesting. I agree with all the TA notes above…knowing the material, teaching it eloquently, checking for understanding, letting your passion for the subject shine through (or, er, faking it)…those are the big ones in my book.

  7. This is very exciting! You are going to be fabulous because you obv are passionate about what you want to do! As for TAs I’d say having variety in the class always helped me, but I really think it comes down to your attitude. Can’t wait to hear about it as it goes, when you find time of course 😉

  8. Gooooood Luck!

    My favorite TAs was responsive when I had a question and listened to the students as much as he wanted to teach us. He took himself seriously as a teacher, but not TOO seriously, as to where I didn’t feel like I could relate to him.

    Hope that helps!

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