harrisonfjord

What piece(s) of advice would you give to new TAs?

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3 hours ago, timetobegin said:

I am neither masculine or white. "Approachable, casual, and conversational" are incredibly broad terms you can incorporate into your own teaching style, in any interpretation you choose. 

I recognized the former from your reference to breaking a heel, yes. But I just wanted to point out that this is hard for some to negotiate than it is for others. This observation is neither mine nor particularly controversial.

Edited by telkanuru

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1 hour ago, telkanuru said:

I recognized the former from your reference to breaking a heel, yes. But I just wanted to point out that this is hard for some to negotiate than it is for others. This observation is neither mine nor particularly controversial.

Many things are more difficult in academic when you're a WOC. Perhaps it depends on your area and your program, but entering your job with the mindset of being approachable and casual in a professional environment is not a difficulty. Then you can always re-evaluate and deal with situations and obstacles as they occur.

Remembering what I liked about my TAs in undergrad and emulating their teaching style is simply my advice.

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On 12/7/2017 at 9:07 PM, telkanuru said:

Note that this is an avenue of approach that is more possible the whiter and more masculine you present. Women and people of color often have trouble with performatively divesting themselves of certain aspects of their authority.

Yes. And women are of course *expected* to be more approachable, friendlier, and infinitely available. If you're a woman who does not uphold this end of the unspoken social contract in the way students (who have been conditioned to expect extra attention and ~nurturing care~ from women) think you should, you will oftentimes open yourself up to criticism for being "arrogant" or "inaccessible." 

Most of the time my students do evaluate me as "approachable" and "friendly" (which always makes me flinch a little due to the gendered expectations I'm inevitably playing into). But in every class there is a small minority who see things very differently, and I often think it's due to off-tilt expectations. They are oftentimes overly sensitive to criticism (the "B" grade on a paper; the gentle correction in class). You will never, ever please those students, so don't knock yourself out trying. Like, for instance, one time as a graduate instructor I had a student who needed extra help and wanted to meet with me very often, so I made myself abundantly available to him, staying after class and offering to read extra drafts over email. This took a LOT of energy on my part--energy and time for which I wasn't compensated, of course. 

When I got my evaluations back after the semester was over, I found that this student had reamed me, writing "she doesn't do a good job of caring for her students and shouldn't be allowed to teach at this university. Her feedback was useless and she and would take FOREVER to respond to my emails." 

Moral of the story: if a student is overly demanding and insists upon sucking you dry as a resource, they are unlikely to appreciate the sacrifices you are indeed making for them. If you are a woman, you are probably going to be held to an even higher (and impossible) standard, and then criticized for not catering enough. So it's best to observe office hours and do what you can, but to not overextend yourself. It's nice to stay 5-10 minutes after class, as someone recommended, but it's also okay to "shut down" and go home. You are a TA, not a customer service rep, and your main obligation is to yourself.

And if "friendly" or "outgoing" isn't a natural part of your personality, then that's also okay. Make your peace with your personality (maybe slightly shier, more businesslike, or more reserved) and move forward. You have other valuable assets to offer your students--your knowledge and thoroughness, for example--and not every professor or instructor needs to be bubbly and nice in order to be effective. There are other ways to be a good teacher. Students see this and many will appreciate it. Even if you're not a barrel of laughs like Joe's TA or bringing cookies to class like Mary's GI, you will always have students who appreciate your competence. 

Moreover, students need to learn that adults are not always going to be their cheerleaders, asking them about their weekends and greeting them each by name every single day. And if you want to be the TA who wears a suit or a tie or work clothes to teach your damn class, then goddammit, that's your call. 

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