Reflections on Working as a TA
by Zachary Robinson
I’m not sure about my cohort, but surely the most wholly “new” thing I’ve been faced with in my grad experience thus far is the fabled TA assignment. Of course we’ve always been expected to conduct ourselves with a certain level of professionalism throughout our academic lives. However, concretizing that notion of “profession” was, for me at least, a fairly nerve wracking experience. So, I’ve decided to accumulate the little knowledge I have into a few brief points (I want to look at the most important things to me). I’m taking this theme as my post in order to 1) provide some handy, digestible tips for prospective or struggling TA’s and 2) to process what has been learned as my first semester as an employee of the university comes to a close. God knows, I’m not ready for the New Year.
1. Put your own work first. A running trend you might find as you skim through this list is that some of the things I’ll propose will seem incredibly obvious. Believe me, I know. But they’re also things that are easy to forget. Do not subordinate your work to your marking. The pressure of the pay roll will compel you to finish commenting on your students’ papers before you start that paper you’ve been putting off for ages. Don’t do that. That’s a bad decision. Finish your personal assignments. Seek out avenues of assistance. You’re not alone in this. Which leads me to my second point:
2. Talk to the professor you’re stationed under. In this specific situation, they act as your co-worker. Your feelings about work are important and should be voiced. More often than not, if you feel an undue amount of pressure, something will be able to be worked out. It’s also probably useful to keep up a good rapport with your union. However, this is a slippery idea, and it’s important not to fall into a reciprocal cycle of laziness/stress.
3. Be responsible. This is a job. Again, duh. But I’ve found it’s easy to think of the class you’re TAing for in the same way as the classes you are enrolled in. Constantly remind yourself that what you’re doing is work. And, as such, it must be treated as work. You are responsible for things beyond your own personal success. Your academic world is oscillating, the working world is coming into view.
That’s it! Not much, but I’ve found these considerations helpful throughout the past few months. I wish the best of luck to future TAs!