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13 Things Your TA Wishes You Knew

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Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants are an enigma because they are not yet professors, but definitely not students. They are a half-in, half-out sort of entity with a unique perspective on the goings-on in our classrooms. I sat down with five of our UAlbany TAs to ask them, “What do you wish students knew?” Here is what they had to say:

1.)Come to lecture. And if you don’t come to lecture, “don’t ask me to re-teach you the whole lecture. We are here to supplement, not re-teach. Out of 20 students, 4 or 5 regularly skip lecture.” Christian Ruth – 2.5 years as a TA – History 100, 101, 120

2.)Raise your hand and try. “Try not to be shy. If you aren’t great at it the first time that’s ok. Don’t feel bad about yourself. People are afraid of looking stupid if they give the wrong answer and that deters people from even trying. You should know we aren’t judging you. As a teacher I think it’s cool if someone offers up an answer even if it’s not right. Thank you for at least trying. That’s a good thing.” Even if you’re wrong, you get more kudos than you would remaining silent. Alea Wittig – 1st semester as a TA – Pre-calculus

3.)Dead Fish Eye Stare. “I can deal with lateness, just, when I ask you a question, at least try to grapple with the answer. Don’t just give me the dead fish eye. Then I gotta start picking on people.” He added, “Come to section ready to learn. Ready to talk.” Marvin Corrielus – 3rd semester as a TA – American political and social history.

4.)Lateness: “As you move forward in life, developing a good habit of being punctual all the time now will benefit you so much when you enter the workforce. Be the person who gets there ten minutes early and gets the first crack at things. TAs notice that. Professors notice that. Your boss will absolutely notice that. Start now.” “In lecture, Showing up ten, fifteen minutes late you’re just being disruptive at that point. Are you really going to pay attention anyway?” Nick Truax – 2nd semester as a TA – History 101

5.)You’re not as hidden as you think: In a lecture with 100 people, students think they can hide. “You can’t really fade into the background. Tyson Luneau – 2nd semester as a TA – American political and social history

6.)Your emails are way too casual. TAs are professors for you. If you wouldn’t say it to your professor, don’t say it to your TA. “People send me emails that start with ‘hey bro-’.” “Don’t use emojis in your emails.” “There is a boundary, if you’re too approachable, students try to cross that boundary.” Christian Ruth – 2.5 years as a TA – History 100, 101, 120

7.)I’m not here to give you the answer. “I think a lot of students want to have their questions, especially with math, answered completely for them instead of bringing their own ideas and getting help. Even if your idea is wrong, it’s better to have some work you’ve put into the question before you ask. Alea Wittig – 1st semester as a TA – Pre-calculus

8.)Don’t try to date me. “A student gave me her number on the back of a quiz once. It’s very inappropriate. I reported the student. I was like you can’t do this. She cried. Don’t do it.” Christian Ruth – 2.5 years as a TA – History 100, 101, 120

9.)Distractions: “I’m not gonna play the phone police, we are going to be moving at a quick pace. If you’re buried in your phone on snap chat, watching movies, playing games on your phone, my question is why are you here? Today almost the entire row in front of me was distracted by their phone or doing work for another class.” Tyson Luneau – 2nd semester as a TA – American political and social history

10.)We are busy. “Our lives don’t entirely revolve around teaching you. The majority of what we do is our own work. If you email us at 7pm, we are under no obligation to respond to you. At all. Students will get snippy if I don’t respond the night they emailed me. Then first thing in the morning they ask, ‘did you get my email?’ It’s 9:30 in the morning. That is kind of frustrating.” Christian Ruth – 2.5 years as a TA – History 100, 101, 120

11.)Come to office hours. “We are there 3 or 4 hours a week. No one comes. Then they act surprised when they do poorly on the exam. Student ask when the hours are, act like they’re going to show up, then they don’t. We like helping.” Christian Ruth – 2.5 years as a TA – History 100, 101, 120

12.)Value the experience. “I would encourage students to value their education and get the most out of it. A bachelor’s degree is not a guarantee to a job anymore and you’re setting yourself up for bad habits by falling into these behaviors.” Tyson Luneau – 2nd semester as a TA – American political and social history

13.)Understanding is more important than grades. “It’s better to focus on understanding the material than just getting a good grade. That’s how you also find out whether you enjoy the subject. Just by practicing it and not just trying to get an answer to put into your homework. Your goal should be, ‘I want to understand this material, why is it important? How can I use it in my life for my major?’” Alea Wittig – 1st semester as a TA – Pre-calculus

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