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Washington State University Graduate School

TA Advice

Experienced TAs share their stories about teaching.

 

Learning Styles

I wish I’d known that the students are more nervous and worried about looking good in the eyes of their peers than I ever could be about how they’d react to me.

I wish that someone had told me what an experimental situation we are in, that many professors are still trying things out, even after years of teaching!

I wish I’d recognized that I was teaching to my own personal learning style. I had to figure out pretty quickly that the way I learn best doesn’t necessarily work well for all of my students.

The one thing I wish I’d had was a clear understanding of what was expected of me (i.e., duties, number of hours to be worked, etc.). I didn’t know that it was okay to just sit down with my supervisor and ask what I was going to be doing that quarter.

 

Collaboration

I wish that I had been able to work with a group of supportive TAs. Starting out in total isolation makes the work infinitely more difficult…. and actually makes me less willing to look critically/analytically at my teaching. Another way to do this would be to find a teaching buddy… someone who is teaching the same course (or a similar one) for the second or third time. Sit in on their class for a week or two to see how s/he does it. (I still do this!)

I wish I’d known that the key to surviving as a first-year TA is planned flexibility. Plan goals and objectives, but don’t let those plans keep you from responding to the specific needs of the individual class you’re teaching.

I wish I’d known that I don’t have to be the “expert” in the class; the person who knows more than my students about every topic. What a set up!

I wish I’d been told how important it is for you to be able to identify the students in classes, and greet them by name when you see them in the hall. Even if you have over 100 students in the class, do it with seating charts, photographs, or whatever it takes.

 

Improvising

I wish they’d told me to check my tests. After you finish making up an exam that contains mostly quantitative problems, even if you know it’s perfect, work it through completely from scratch and note how long it takes you to do it. Then go back and get rid of the inevitable bugs and busywork and cut the test down so that students have at least three times longer to work it out than it took you to do it.

I wish I’d known not to go in to my first day of class with a prepared script. When things didn’t go according to my plan, I got completely lost!

When problems arise that have serious implications – academic misconduct, for example, or a student or colleague with an apparent psychological problem, or anything that could lead to litigation or violence-don’t try to solve them on your own. Contact the appropriate professionals on campus, be they trained counselors or attorneys, and bring them in to either help you deal with the problem or handle it themselves.

Now I know how important it is to create some private space for yourself and retreat to it on a regular basis. Pick a three-hour slot once or twice a week when you don’t have class or office hours and go elsewhere – stay home, for example, or take your laptop to the library.

What I Wished They’d Told Me! was compiled by the University of Minnesota Center for Teaching and Learning, and reprinted with their permission.