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Difficulties of a TA


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My TAship is unusual in that I am not fully responsible for a course, I just help the professor primarily with one course.  However, TAs at my school do not receive a stipend that covers tuition, it's more like a small scholarship.  Basically we do it more for the experience and less for the money, although the extra money does help. For financial reasons I also work outside of my TAship.  This along with keeping up with coursework and an internship proved to be quite stressful last semester (I should also mention that it was my first internship experience in grad school, so it was a whole new ball game for me). 

Anyway, I fell behind on some of my responsibilities with my TAship last semester, although in the end I did get all the necessities done.  At the end of this semester I'd like to feel that I have been successful, but I am just really disillusioned by how last semester went.

Any thoughts, advice, or similar experiences are welcomed.

Edited by Grad25
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I guess what's "usual" is different for different fields, because in my field, it's very rare for a TA to be fully responsible for the course (we would likely call that person a "Teaching Fellow" rather than a "Teaching Assistant", too). 

My feeling about TAships is that they can take unlimited time. Therefore, it's super important to set expectations before you start. I always sit down with the professor teaching the course and talk about what is expected and compare it to how many hours I'm supposed to be working (based on whatever agreement your TA offer has). For example, at one school, a TAship is 9 hours per week per course. So we talk about things like: okay, the prof wants me to attend all the lectures (3 hours per week), hold one office hour per week, read the same assignments (1 hour per week, let's say, since I should be able to read faster than the students), and grade homework. We look at the time budget and find that I have about 4 hours per week to grade homework, and if there's like 40 students in the class, then I have 10 minutes per student. So, we agree on the amount of homework to be assigned so that I can finish grading in just 10 minutes per student. Maybe the instructor prefers to give long project-style homework that might take 30 minutes to grade, which means they can only assign one of these every 3 weeks instead of having weekly assignments. 

Some other instructors will give the TA the solution to the problem sets/homework, but others will require the TA to solve them on their own first. So, this must be added to the time budget too. And sometimes instructors want TAs to create the homework themselves so that takes up time as well!

And this discussion is not necessarily all one-sided (although since they are your boss, it could certainly be that way). For me, I'm lucky that when I want to do something in particular, my TA boss has always welcomed it. For example, in recent years, I wanted to teach one week's worth of lectures, which would require more hours of TA work in order to prep. So, we shifted my other responsibilities around so that I spent less time grading and more time prepping for the lectures. I wouldn't expect this of course, but an example of how discussions of expectations will benefit everyone.

Finally, an important thing to remember is to make sure you are defining "success" as something achievable. It is impossible for a TA to please everyone. I only have about 5-10 minutes (depending on the assignment and the class) to grade the weekly homework. Sometimes I wish I could give a lot more feedback to the students, but if I spend more time on my TA work, I'm neglecting other aspects of my life (research, my own classes, my family, my hobbies etc.). I've stopped measuring my "success" in TA work as "how much stuff got done", but instead, "how effective are my use of the resources I have". I strive to spend my 9 hours per week to improve my students' learning as best as I can!

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