Friday, July 16, 2010

The TAs We Loved, TAs We Hated



Not surprisingly, the people who had quite a significant impact on my academic experience (and, obvs, on my marks) were my TAs. There were TAs I loved, and there were TAs I didn't like as much. There were also TAs I've forgotten because, seriously, they were too boring to remember.

From my own experiences and stories I've heard from friends (both at UofT and other schools), I've figured out a few "types" of TAs that one may encounter during their university or college experience. Of course, this isn't an exclusive list. I'm sure there are probably many TAs who don't fall under these supposed categories.

Reflecting on your undergrad career, though, you tend to remember the memorable ones such as...

1) The Hot TA

In second year, we had to sign up for tutorials according to our preferred times. When the TAs introduced themselves the first day of class, there was honestly the most audible gasp from all the girls in the room when one tall Abercrombie model-esque TA stood up and introduced himself as *Ben*. Tall Ben with the deep-voice-blonde-hair-perfectly-straight-Crest-white-strips-teeth. After class, you could hear all the girls running toward the tutorial sign-up board, clamoring to get into Ben's tutorial.

Because really, in the dreary world of studying, there isn't anything more entertaining than ogling some good (intelligent) eye candy and giggling about it afterwards.

p.s. I never got into Ben's tutorial. I didn't run fast enough. I ended up with Amy (See: The Bitter TA) who screwed up my GPA with a 79. Like really, you couldn't make it an 80? Thanks, Amy.

2) The Socially Awkward TA

In Political Theory, I was the only one who showed up for tutorial the first day. I'm not kidding. To fill the silence, my TA nervously started the most awkward conversation I've ever encountered. He eagerly began talking about how he was so hungover from the Big Greek Wedding he was at the night before, spilling details about how much he drank, what he likes to drink, etc.

I was speechless, I didn't know what to say! Seriously, the conversation was borderline inappropriate. After 20 minutes, I managed to steer the conversation to Plato's Republic. But for the rest of the semester, I had similar conversations with him. He was so unaware of his inappropriateness; so hilarious yet so awkward!

3) The I'd-Rather-Be-Anywhere-But-Here TA

These ones bored the crap out of me. They either hated what they were doing or had no idea what they were talking about. They constantly checked their watches or cell phones for the time, counting the minutes until tutorial was over. They usually didn't have answers to student questions, and even if they did, their answers were pretty vague.

If you don't want to be there, it shows. And it makes your student not want to be there either. Just saying.

4) The Bitter TA

In second year, I encountered a TA who was angry at life and it showed! Oh sure, she was passionate about the material. She knew what she was talking about, and you could definitely learn from her if you ignored her permanent scowl. But seriously, if you want your students to like you, you probably should smile a little.

Why the bitterness? Bad breakup? Unrequited love? Bad marks? Who knows. But either way, if you give short answers, glare at students if they ask questions or attempt to extend conversation, and leave zero comments on B, C or D-level papers, you probably won't receive great feedback. Just putting it out there.

5) The Funny/Quirky TA

Hee. These were my favourite ones. My second-year POL215 TA spent most of our first tutorial talking about how him and his wife backpacked through China for their honeymoon. He learned to ride a bike in China, had dim sum for the first time in China, and overall had a *great time* in China. He then proceeded to talk about his China trip every tutorial the rest of the semester. It never got old, his stories were so engaging, it makes me me wonder in retrospect whether they were made up. Well, whatever, it was cute.

Then there was that TA I had in fourth year who came to tutorial the first day with (I kid you not) dreadlocks that extended past his waist. Thick, dark brown dreads with pink and lime green hair ties wrapped around the ends. I was fascinated. He then went on to tell us about his adventures in Serbia and Jamaica. The following week, he walked into class sporting the most conservative crew cut (military styles). He sheepishly told us that he was told to get rid of his dreads. Aww.

Quirky TAs can be tagged as adorable. As cute. As funny (in a good way). Just because of their memorable, unique traits that amuse you and make you giggle. These TAs make you smile, and the genuine friendships these TAs build with students (by relating funny stories, giving advice, and getting to know their students) make them so likeable and memorable.

6) The Fashionable TA

The label speaks for itself. I had a TA whose Marc Jacobs bag I wanted to steal. How does a mere TA salary pay for a purse like that, I wonder?

7) The Obnoxious TA

ZOMG. My first POL experience ever, in first year, was tainted by the worst TA I ever had. His name was Mark, and I will forever hold bitter, vicious memories of my time in his class. I don't remember much of his tutorials other than the fact that he bragged about his intelligence for most of the hour, gave zero feedback on papers, picked on people in class, and talked about his degrees all the time. All the time. ALL the time. His ego couldn't fit within the walls of that UC tutorial room. Obviously, we didn't learn much from him.

8) The TA You'll Love Forever

And then, there was that TA I hope I can be. The TA who could provide insights into pretty obscure topics, and responded to your pitiful emails about your soon-to-be-late paper right away. The TA who helped you as much as they could on your assignments and provided constructive criticism when you failed. They didn't pick on you, didn't give you a lower mark without a solid explanation, and were friendly, approachable, and seemed to enjoy talking to their students (compared to others who looked like they were having their tonsils removed everytime they were approached for conversation).

I didn't have as many of these TAs as I would have liked. But the ones I did have truly were unforgettable. Their intelligence and kindness shaped my research interests, essay habits, and my perspectives on a variety of key political and historical issues.

Who knows what kind of TA I will be in September? I could be labelled the Weird TA, the Smelly TA, the Crappy TA, the Boring TA, the possibilities are endless. Or, if I do things right and remember all the things I loved and hated from past TA experiences, I hope to one day be the type of TA that a student will remember positively and fondly.

....and honestly, if all else fails, I can be the Quirky TA who told their students about the time my friends and I almost got kidnapped in Rome. Because really, even if they hate me, it makes a good story. :)

"Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm." - Sir Winston Churchill

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