Graduate School Meditations

Writing the Future: TA Reflections

Another quarter and another new TA dynamic.  This summer I worked with Porter College students in a class on SF.  We read Shelley, Wells, Miller, Delaney, Delillo, and a few short stories.  More new territory for me, in some ways.  This class had students in many places in their educational experience from graduating seniors to high school juniors participating in a summer live-in and learn-in.  The course ended up being a seminar style class, and my role as the TA shifted due to the class makeup and the summer course structure.

1.  Speak up when you are able to share your thoughts on a course’s structure and you have thoughts on it.

I was asked by the instructor what I thought about the course content.  My initial impression was that there were a lot of readings.  In this system, the quarter system (of which I have several criticisms and zero control), instructors in a regular course are already pressed into a 10 week system, but a summer course like this one is even more compacted into a 5 week cram session.  I am used to demanding courses so I did not voice my concern.  It seemed clear by the first week that undergraduate students are less used to demanding timelines of thick readings. The course was renovated within that first week to adjust to a more practical schedule of readings for a five week stretch. Now that I know what a summer course is like, I can see why students struggle with the load, and I would be more inclined to think with the instructor how we can assure a manageable reading load and schedule.

2.  Be the instructor’s second line of defense (time permitting).

An important thing to remember, even though it was not exactly a problem, is that as the TA, it would be useful for me to review and quality check to make sure materials are accessible and accurate.  This is especially important in an accelerated course.  I say this because we had one incorrect upload to our course management site, and I didn’t catch it because I obtained a hard copy of the text.  Students were, however, relying on the uploaded versions, and time was essential.

3.  Be ready to create a role for yourself in a new and different teaching situation.

Discussion Assistance with the whole group

Rather than leading a section on my own, I participated in facilitating discussion alongside the instructor, who was very generous and gracious to give me space to ask questions and raise new ideas.  It was like team teaching, which seems like something I would really like to get into in the future.

Discussion Facilitation with smaller groups

I did conduct some mini-discussions with the students, where participation was more inclusive and intimate.  I was able to work closely with students on their writing by giving their work and ideas deep attention and feedback.  These sessions were only thirty minutes long and in groups of about 4-5 students.  I liked the idea as it would encourage students who are less comfortable in large groups, but the class was pretty small already, so it was not much different from being all together.

Required Meetings with the TA

Perhaps, next time I am part of a summer course, I might arrange for one-on-one sessions with the students over the course.  I might have them meet with me to discuss assignments, readings, or anything they would like.