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Never TA'd before... think I am going to puke


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I have never TA'd before, I hate presentations, I hate public speaking. Starting a PhD was therefore a natural choice :) I don't want to be beaten by my fears, but I know that I will be a sessional instructor starting from the second year of my PhD (I only WISH I got to TA by marking papers, taking a few seminers... but oh no, its the full works for me) not only that, I will be teaching English.. which would be fine, but my undergrad and masters were both in film and broadcasting. Bazinga. I therefore feel nervous AND ignorant. I am sure everyone gets nervous, but my jitters are all ready ramping up and its not even going to happen for a year or so - my nerves get to the point where its borderline panic attacks. Super lame. I've heard the stats about how more people fear presenting than death, I know my feelings are all 'fight or flight' instincts, but this knowledge doesn't seem to stop the wiggly leg, blushing face, wobbly voice and waves of blank brain/stupidity that keep washing over me... Any tips, advice, etc. from anyone on how to get over this would be so so appreciated!

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Any tips, advice, etc. from anyone on how to get over this would be so so appreciated!

You just do it. It gets easier the more practice you have. The first semester is a little rough (you'll probably learn more than the students do), because you're just trying to find your groove. Don't take the assessments to heart (if they are bad)--you'll get better. If you don't know the answer, there's no shame in saying, "I don't know offhand, but I'll find out." You're not expected to know everything, but chances are you'll know more than your students. My first teaching experience was teaching English to 30 students and I didn't have a Master's degree in it. It is intimidating, but I'd suggest you search online for good tips. I like to play games during some discussion sessions (think Jeopardy), or bring in relevant YouTube clips to help start discussion. Most students seem to appreciate when you don't have the same lecture style every week, because it's not as boring. :-)

This week I have to lecture to 70 students on a subject I know nothing about. I'm not sweating it. (This comes after 5 years of teaching.)

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Not quite the same situation, but maybe this will be a little helpful. I went into teaching for some bizzaro crazy reason after I finished my under grad in chem, not education. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do yet and I guess I figured I'd have a guaranteed job as a high school science teacher. Anyhow, like you I hated public speaking, presentations, and was also quite shy (still shy now, not quite so bad). I am sure it will be different since you will not be with high school kids, although depending on the level you'll be teaching it might not be too far off :). I found that once in the classroom with just myself and my students things fell into place. You have to remember that your students are at least, if not more, scared of you than you are of them until they get to know you (or maybe still even after). I think for me it helped to remember that I am in control of the situation and you can really play off that if your a control freak like me! I'd also suggest when you're making your lesson plans (do they call them that for TA'ing?) or class plans to keep them pretty flexible and have a couple possible ideas to go from. And do not forget to keep an open mind too, I've certainly learned a lot from my students..... such as a new inspiration to go back to being a student myself :D Like the poster above mentioned, do some research on different discussion styles like Socratic seminars, or other protocols. They can also give you a good break by leaving the work up to the students.

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I have never TA'd before, I hate presentations, I hate public speaking. Starting a PhD was therefore a natural choice :) I don't want to be beaten by my fears, but I know that I will be a sessional instructor starting from the second year of my PhD (I only WISH I got to TA by marking papers, taking a few seminers... but oh no, its the full works for me) not only that, I will be teaching English.. which would be fine, but my undergrad and masters were both in film and broadcasting. Bazinga. I therefore feel nervous AND ignorant. I am sure everyone gets nervous, but my jitters are all ready ramping up and its not even going to happen for a year or so - my nerves get to the point where its borderline panic attacks. Super lame. I've heard the stats about how more people fear presenting than death, I know my feelings are all 'fight or flight' instincts, but this knowledge doesn't seem to stop the wiggly leg, blushing face, wobbly voice and waves of blank brain/stupidity that keep washing over me... Any tips, advice, etc. from anyone on how to get over this would be so so appreciated!

You got some good advice above. Thought I'd share the experience of my first day as a TA. It was my first teaching job, for a computer lab. I had it all planned nicely in my mind... and then my PhD supervisor decided to stay in the lab while I was explaining things at the blackboard (he normally doesn't)! I freaked out. I realized right then that I wasn't clear, that what I was saying probably didn't make much sense to the students, but I just couldn't get back to the plan I'd made. It was awful.

As I gained more teaching experience, things got better though. Now, 5 years later, I could TA with anyone in the room, and I'm okay with not being able to answer some questions right away, or with knowing that a class didn't go as well as I wished.

Tip: Try not to puke in the class. THAT first impression might be harder to change. ;)

Edited by go3187
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I completely understand. I almost had a full blown panic attack the night before my first class when I TA'd during my Master's. Fear of public speaking and being judged unworthy by a crowd of undergrads or some such.

Two things I've found to be extremely helpful:

1- Delay the worrying until it's time for it. It's hard to do at first, but if you practice, I've found this be so helpful in more than just teaching (especially if you tend to panic a lot in general). Think to yourself, I will give myself a full week's worth of worry time (think of all the hours you'll have) prior to my first class, and then I can do the whole panic thing at liberty.

2- Tackle your worry through preparation. It's fear of the unknown and of being judged by students as a terrible TA. Think of the worst TA you've ever had. S/he was probably meh, but it wasn't exactly that horrible. This will probably be the absolute worst that can happen, which isn't too bad. And it won't happen, because you'll prepare everything and visualize it well before your first class, and have some notes of what to do and cover handy to guide you through those first few lessons till you get your footing .

Let me tell you, once those first few classes are behind you, it gets so much easier. I think nothing of it now when I walk into a class.

Just keep thinking to yourself: I'm awesome, and I can be great at this.

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Guest criminologist

look up the medicine 'propranolol' for public speaking. it can be used to eliminate the physical symptoms of public speaking fear, i use it for class presentations, speechs, etc and it works good, I have no fight or flight symptoms so I can focus on my speech, not tremble and stutter

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In the time between now and when your TA assignment starts, do what you can (within reason) to prepare yourself. Start reading up on the material you'll be teaching, start corresponding/talking wth the prof you'll be working with. Take any opportunities that come your way to do a little bit of public speaking and/or leading groups of people in conversations. Baby steps.

Also, it may help to remind yourself that you are not going to ruin anyone's educational experience. The worst that can happen is that you might bore some people. If you set your standards of self-expectation low, it'll be easier for you to achieve those standards and beyond. Low expectations are better than crippingly, panic-inducingly high ones.

Best of luck!

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TA'ing isn't as bad as givnig a presentation to your peers. You'll realize that you have the authority in the class you TA (as long as the professor isn't in class as well). When you give presentations or seminars you some times have to worry about somebody in the audience knowing more than you about the subject and asking crazy specific questions that you aren't prepared for, but when you TA the students don't know nearly as much as you, and most don't care enough to ever ask questions.

I also think that failure isn't a death sentence at all. Your school might have the students do evaluations like they do with professors, but they often do not matter at all. You won't get kicked out of your program for not being the best TA.

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Go over all the material before hand and try and think of questions the students may come up with so you can be ready for them. If you don't know something don't sweat it! TAs do not know everything!

Someone said above to "Be annoyed with teaching" and though this sounds weird, it kind of works! When you are scared of teaching it is mainly because you feel inadequate. I can remember that was what I went through my first day! But as I became more comfortable it did sort of become annoying - because in a weird way it means that you are totally comfortable with it. Been there, done that you know?

And be yourself. Show the kids how awesome "fill in field here" is. You obviously think it is because you chose to go to grad school for it! 90% of my TA evals mentioned how my enthusiasm for biology was contagious and how it made class so fun for them. And most of all remember YOU are the boss. It's like wild animals, they are probably more afraid of you then you are of them! Good luck!

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I have never TA'd before, I hate presentations, I hate public speaking. Starting a PhD was therefore a natural choice :) I don't want to be beaten by my fears, but I know that I will be a sessional instructor starting from the second year of my PhD (I only WISH I got to TA by marking papers, taking a few seminers... but oh no, its the full works for me) not only that, I will be teaching English.. which would be fine, but my undergrad and masters were both in film and broadcasting. Bazinga.

Hey are you teaching English language or English language literature? If the former, I can certainly give you specific tips. I've been teaching English (language) in total for about a year now, and I can certainly remember my first days and the anxiety associated with it. Although maybe I did not fear it as much as you, I would sweat through two shirts for each 45 minute class. Now I hardly need to prepare anything and am totally confident about the whole thing. Whatever the subject is exactly, just tell yourself how incredibly awesome you are for being in grad school and having such an opportunity. And some small advice for questions you are not so sure of--stop for a moment, make a "thinking face" (so that they know you are thinking) and answer indirectly (if you still are not sure). Otherwise, don't be afraid to not know the answer immediately! It's just teaching. One of my mentors always told me not to be nervous in front of the class--there are people right now shooting at each other with guns; we are just standing in front of some people. The world doesn't end if you have a bad class.

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  • 2 weeks later...

TA'ing isn't as bad as givnig a presentation to your peers. You'll realize that you have the authority in the class you TA (as long as the professor isn't in class as well). When you give presentations or seminars you some times have to worry about somebody in the audience knowing more than you about the subject and asking crazy specific questions that you aren't prepared for, but when you TA the students don't know nearly as much as you, and most don't care enough to ever ask questions.

Going to second this, mostly. I know that I was afraid of TAing because I thought the undergrads would be judging me the way my peers, and faculty, would be judging me. Nope! They don't know much about your topic and that's why they are taking the class. And most of the time they are at least mildly interested in it. You get a few people who are miserable and don't want to be there, but most of the students in my experience have at least some desire to take the course. Although I have to disagree with the last part - it really depends on where you are, but I TA at a university where the culture is to question everything. So the students ask lots of questions even in a 180-person lecture class. But their questions are elementary and pretty easy to answer. Sometimes I can't answer them, but I'll just give them a thoughtful look and say "You know what, I don't know. But I'll find out for you." And then follow up.

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Thanks for posting Frozenroses. I have been in a mad panic since I found out that I will be teaching writing classes as a TA (my avatar pretty much sums it up). The fact that it is a great opportunity does not stop me from worrying about how I will perform in this role. I also think there are numerous excellent suggestions/perspective checks above. I will add that I am joining toastmasters to prepare for this experience. My first speech was an epic fail (in my inexorably distorted opinion). I'm going back though. Teaching/public speaking will probably not be a life or death scenario. I am reminded of this if I consciously give thanks for the life that I have and that I do not suffer as an inhabitant of Syria or Sierra Leone during the 1990's.

Edited by Eddie Kant
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  • 1 year later...

Does anyone else have a problem with this?

It happens to me all the time and I hate it. I go incredibly bright red.

I don't even have to be embarassed for it to happen, and embarassment is rarely what causes it.

It happens to me just when multiple people look at me, i.e. when I'm talking in a group, etc. or when I realise that I've said something inappropriate, or when I think of what other people are thinking about me. I'm not even embarassed and I don't even know what the feeling is that I'm feeling when it happens.

I've googled blushing and there seems to be no medical way to stop it.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Thank you for making this thread, OP. I just found out I'll be TA'ing at least the first 4 years of my PhD. I'm assuming (read: praying, hoping, wishing) they won't make me lead a class my first year since I actually come from a discipline closely related to the field I'm going into but don't have a ton of experience in the field itself yet. I have been having stress dreams about it and it's making me sick just thinking about it. However, there are a few things I plan to do regardless in order to prepare myself. I had some excellent instructors in undergrad (there weren't any TA's, only full professors) and I plan to ask if I can sit in on a class one day when I go to visit just to remind myself what I liked about their teaching style and to take some notes for myself. I also have a friend in a different field who TA's a class presently and I'm going to ask him if I can sit in just to see how his students behave. Hopefully I can prepare myself mentally for it if I see it in action. Other than that, I'll probably plan out the lessons as much as I can and make sure I read up on related topics the night before each class...and watch a ton of YouTube videos on teaching.

Edited by Maleficent999
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Since you're not TAing the first year, get hired on in the Writing Center (should your uni have one). This will give you practical experience "teaching" in a one-on-one environment. Look for presentation opportunities and run with them.

On the campuses I'm familiar with (granted, not many), Writing Centers will hire tutors from disciplines other than English, and gladly. Having someone in the field to help a writing center client out with a paper is pretty much livin' the dream, baby. What do English majors know about chemistry? Or physics? Or ag?

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Since you're not TAing the first year, get hired on in the Writing Center (should your uni have one). This will give you practical experience "teaching" in a one-on-one environment. Look for presentation opportunities and run with them.

On the campuses I'm familiar with (granted, not many), Writing Centers will hire tutors from disciplines other than English, and gladly. Having someone in the field to help a writing center client out with a paper is pretty much livin' the dream, baby. What do English majors know about chemistry? Or physics? Or ag?

That is a great idea. I looked into it last night and I can work in the writing lab for as many or few hours as I'd like to help drop-ins with their concerns.

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I'm super scared as well! Mainly because I'm afraid that I won't remember any of the content I will be teaching. I will probably be TA-ing for a calculus class or something next semester and I haven't messed with that stuff in a while  :mellow: but the public speaking aspect is definitely another issue haha.

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  • 4 weeks later...

So I thought I would be getting a quarter of TA seminar my first quarter at the school I'm attending in the Fall (a seminar on how to be a TA), but it turns out they ran out of money and can't afford to hold that seminar anymore so I have to TA my very first quarter...in a subject for which I've never taken a class in my entire life. Yep, a little freaked to say the least. I'm just hoping I get to TA an upper division course where all I have to do is grade. Otherwise I better read ALL the dummies books and Wikipedia articles out there.

Edited by Maleficent999
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  • 3 weeks later...

Lead the discussion but let the students do all the talking. No one expects you to be a rock star teacher off the bat. You just need to lead a discussion and know the material from the class.

 

You are there to help students learn the material, not teach it.

Edited by HopefulComparativist
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  • 1 month later...

As long as you can get the students to talk, everything will be fine. if somebody says something completely unfounded or unrelated, gently steer the conversation back in the right direction. Anything's better than deafening silence as you repeatedly rephrase the question. Bring a list of topics so that you can switch if one topic gets stale/nobody has anything to say, and make sure you ask questions in a range of difficulties or somebody will get bored/overwhelmed.

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