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Handling being a GTA


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This is my second semester of graduate school and my first semester as a GTA. I also got my undergraduate degree here and still know many of the people in the program. The department assigned me to assist with a senior level undergraduate course, and this week I have to teach it by myself because the professor had to go out of town. In addition, I'm actually one of the younger people in the class and many of the older students don't seem to take me seriously. Before this, I've mostly just graded papers and helped with powerpoints. Besides showing confidence, is there anything else you could suggest when dealing with an older crowd? Thanks

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From my experience TAing for a class where most of students were at least my age, if not older, and as a female TA to a mostly male class, two important things to do is dress appropriately (=nicely, in a way that makes you stand out and differentiates you from the other students who are just there to take the class), and to be very careful about telling jokes. Telling jokes in general, and making fun of oneself in particular, may be completely acceptable for older/male TAs but for younger/female TAs it could be perceived as signaling insecurity, and that could lead to the class respecting you less. I know it's hard, particularly if you know some of your students from social settings or took classes with them in the past, but when you're in class you're not their friend. You're their teacher. People come into these social situations expecting to play certain roles. If you clearly take on your role as 'the teacher,' most students will be perfectly happy accepting their natural role as 'the students.' Just don't send mixed signals while you are in class, and be confident of yourself.

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I second fuzzylogician's suggestions. I would also add (though this probably goes without saying) that you should know the material very well and be prepared to explain it clearly and comprehensively. Try to anticipate questions that students might ask and think about how you will respond.

Also, a note regarding vocabulary. As a mid-20's female grad TA, I always make sure to work in a few high-level vocabulary words that students aren't likely to know (or at least aren't likely to know), especially during the first few meetings of the course. I don't do this to be deliberately obscure (if they're reasonably bright, they can still understand what I'm saying); my goal is to communicate to them that I'm a well-educated person who is qualified to teach them and is comfortable in that position of authority.

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