TTeaching is one of the most rewarding parts of graduate school. If you are lucky enough to snag a TAship you will have the opportunity to interact on a fun, exciting, and dynamic level with the next generation of scholars. What’s more, you will learn more than you ever did sitting on the other side of the desk. That being said, here are a few things your TA probably wishes she/he could say to you:
1) Don’t email me at 3am in the morning and expect an immediate response. I am busy, tired, and overworked. I have friends, a family, and a needy cat… I do not sit around at all hours waiting for the opportunity to answer your questions.
2) Don’t ask me dozens of questions after class/tutorials if you have never bothered to come to my office hours. It’s been said before and I will say it again… I am busy. I probably have another lab session to go to or some other work to do. If you can’t make it to my office hours, send me an email requesting an appointment.
3) Don’t ask: “Will this be on the exam?” No, I just spent 45 minutes discussing that concept because I like the way “confounding variable” sounds as it rolls off the tongue.
4) Don’t ask: “Is this right?” I think you know that I am not supposed to answer that question for you. When asked this I will respond one of three ways: “I don’t know, is it?” (response guaranteed to irritate students); “Looks like something I might do” (vague and indicates that the TA is not paying attention to your actual answer [I cannot calculate standard deviations in my head after all] but is trying to be encouraging about your methods); or *raises eyebrow skeptically “Do you think I am allowed to answer that question?” (places blame on evil professor who has forced me to be a TA, not a ghostwriter.
5) Put down your darn cellphone! There are less than 20 people in this room. Yes, I know when you are texting. If you ask me a question later, the likelihood that I will answer goes down 15% for each time I see you pick up your cell, look at the watch (-5%), play angry birds (-65%) or respond to emails (-30%). I promise you will survive 50 minutes without facebook, Einstein seemed to get by okay without it.
6) RTGDQ. This is advice dispensed by personal statement writing books and highschool teachers the world over: READ THE GOSH DARN QUESTION! Some examples:
* If we ask for the standard deviation, please give us the standard deviation… the mean is not enough!
* If you are asked to discuss something in 2 sentences and at the conceptual level, a 15 line paragraph on a specific historical event is going to do nothing but annoy us
* 8 pages in size 12 TNR does NOT mean 3 pages with 6 inch margins and font size 40 periods (yes, we know about this… oldest trick in the book)
7) Don’t ask “Who did you vote for in the last election.” I may be your TA for intro to political science but my political orientation is none of your business. I won’t ask you your annual income or high school GPA because it wouldn’t be appropriate and because it is not relevant to your performance in the class.
8) Take at least 24 hours to read my comments before asking for a grade change. You may realize after some thought that I spent considerable time reading your paper and that the grade you received is the one you earned. Also consider this: I graded 60-160 of those papers/tests/assignments and my grading system was based on the performance of the entire class.
9) With 8 in mind… yes, I do make mistakes. If you really believe that I have missed something, please please please come and tell me! I would much prefer to give you full credit for your work than to have you grumbling about it behind my back. Sometimes pages of an essay get lost, sometimes TAs miss a sentence, and sometimes our computers crash or a grade is accidentally changed. Big mistakes don’t happen all that often, but to err is human.
10) I want you to do well! Yes, you heard me right. I really want you to succeed in this class and in life. If you receive a poor grade it is probably because you did not fulfill the requirements of the course… not because I am a malicious she-devil who derives some sadistic pleasure from flunking undergrads. Any TA will tell you that it is much easier to give a very high grade than a low or middling one. That being said, I prize my own academic integrity and the high standards set by the university that employs me.
11) It was not so long ago that I was in your position. Heck, I am still a student! I get it. You get busy, life gets in the way, coursework sometimes falls by the wayside. I am reasonable and sympathetic (even empathetic) but I am not a pushover and I am not psychic! If you have an excuse, write it on the “lame” page in your diary and find the strength to push on. If you have a real problem, come and talk to me. We will find a way to deal with it together.
12) I wish you would come to my office hours. I know it seems unnecessary but one-on-one interaction with your TA is a great way to learn more, improve your grades, and engage more actively with the academic community. My one lingering regret from my undergraduate years is that I did not take advantage of face-time with my profs and TAs. Senior year I started going in to a teacher (PhD student)’s office hours and, I do not exaggerate, it changed my life. Months later I was flying halfway across the world because my interactions with Kim (the teacher in question) had materialized into a full-fledged research assistant ship and a field work position in Malawi. Do not underestimate the power of communication!