Despite several requests the last couple of months to blog about the topic of TA-ing, I've refrained from blogging about my job as a TA here at Queen's due to contractual issues of professional conduct. And in accordance to those restrictions, this post isn't about the specificities of my TA experience. It's about teaching in general and my appreciation for the career. Because, quite honestly, it wasn't until my time at Queen's that I truly appreciated the work of my TAs in undergrad in addition to my professors who teach alongside their own work and research.
So today was the day. What day, you ask? Today, I realized how much I love being a TA. Or rather, I think I've fallen in love with the idea of teaching in general. And trust me, I've come a long way from my position at the beginning of the year. I know I'm not the only TA who was more than a little nervous about the position back in September. At TA Development Day in September, 85% of the Biosciences auditorium raised their hands admitting their nerves about TA-ing. We all had similar reservations. What if I didn't know the answer to student questions? What if I blank out? What if no one participates and tutorial is dead? Or worse, what if they hate me?
Trust me. That last question is the real kicker.
The keynote speaker went on to talk about her first few years as a TA and a professor. She openly admitted to being so incredibly nervous that she would vomit (excuse me, I'm being graphic) before every class. I don't blame her. It's incredibly nerve-wracking standing in front of a large group of students who expect you to lead tutorial. That's a long 50 minutes in your hands. No matter how much you love the topic (and I love the topic, I really do), nerves can potentially get the best of you. Nerves. That sinking feeling at the pit of your stomach moments before class, encouraging heart palpitations and sweaty palms. That Wow-I-Don't-Know-What-I'm-Talking-About-Therefore-I-Suck moment just before you enter the room.
Trust me. If you're a new TA, nerves are more than mere acquaintances. If you're a (new) TA, you go through a lot. Beyond what your students can see.
A few months ago, I blogged about the types of TAs I had in undergrad. Over the summer, I wondered who I would be myself. The Quirky TA? The Bitter TA? The possibilities were endless. Yet it wasn't until I started TA-ing that I had the following revelation. I've come a long way from writing that blog post.
Let this blog post serve to appreciate the efforts of all TAs: quirky, bitter, obnoxious, regardless of the type. Because quite honestly, being a TA is challenging. Particularly for those who haven't had much experience, it can be hard. Marking under a deadline, hours of tutorial preparation only to find that no one did the readings, the time spent responding to emails, the great (read: draining) appointment blitz when assignments are due, the time spent dealing with challenges to your marking. The list is endless. Honestly, it can be a lot of work.
Yet despite this, I've come to love being a TA. And I'm trying my hardest to be the type of TA that my students can learn from, that my students can approach without nervous reservation. It never ceases to amaze me how awesome it feels to realize that your students are actually learning from you. To watch your students listening intently to your every word, with genuine interest and eagerness to learn. To watch a confused student suddenly understand a concept, finally getting it. It's an awesome feeling. As TAs, we influence these kids more than we realize. It's so important to put an effort into what we do in order to fulfill this responsibility.
I'll stop being absolutely cliche and corny now. But I'll leave you with these thoughts, dear readers. We all have memories of our own TAs from undergrad. And while there are a number we didn't necessarily like, I think appreciating the efforts of these individuals beyond their quirks is still necessary. Teaching (and marking!!) can take a lot of time and a lot of work. And if there's anything I've learned from my time as a TA, I think appreciating the time and the efforts of the individuals that teach us go a long way to understanding them.
“The strongest influences in my life and my work are always whomever I love. Whomever I love or whomever I remember most vividly. I think that's true of everyone, don't you?”
- Tennessee Williams
“What interested me was not news, but appraisal. What I sought was to grasp the flavor of a man, his texture, his impact, what he stood for, what he believed in, what made him what he was and what color he gave to the fabric of his time.”
- John Gunther (American Writer and Journalist)