Monday, 10 March 2014

Post 8: First Time TA-ing and Preparedness

Remembering back when I was a first-time Teaching Assistant (TA) brings back my worries, but also a good dose of excitement: that feeling of, "I've been waiting a long time to see if I will like this."

My first gig as a TA was for Ecological Restoration, a third year class in the School of Environmental Studies, and the class for which I am currently the TA again. It was a class that I had taken in my undergrad, and it was being taught by a first time sessional instructor. 

In preparing for the class, there were a number of emails sent back and forth between the instructor. We clarified what my main tasks were going to be, when and how the tutorials were to take place, and some main things to focus on, between the class material and the tutorial material. The tutorials essentially revolved around a major term project that I would be marking at the end of the semester. 

One thing that I know from my undergrad and that it was important to me to get 'right' in the first tutorial was finding some kind of ice breaker whereby I could learn the students' names, and where they could get to know each other. The former is more important than the latter; many of them will get to know each other because they'll spend time together in class twice a week, and then further in their group projects. I, however, would see each group of three students only once a week. Getting to know their names shows you care, and are invested in their educational experience. 

My go-to game is one that gets students making sounds and actions by passing a pulse around a standing circle. It also gets them laughing, because there will always be some students more than happy to make some very creative sounds! The goal is to get the pulse moving around the room as quickly as possible, with five different possible actions. I include an elimination round to raise the stakes. This game easily adapts to pass names around, as opposed to a pulse. I modified it from a game way back in high school theatre. Regardless of which game you end up choosing, it's good to make sure that you choose one appropriate for the size of your groups, and consider the time that you have. I also had a lengthy presentation to go through, which was phenomenal for me, because presentations are straightforward to prepare for: you rehearse them and familiarize yourself with the material so that you can present it despite the nerves you might have. 

So, my main message about being a first time TA for that first class, is that of preparedness. I went ahead of time to check out the classroom and make sure that I knew how to use all the equipment I needed, and where all the light switches and on/off switches were. Everything that made me feel like the only thing left uncontrollable were the students and the kinds of questions they would ask. 

In short, my experience as a TA has been nothing short of awesome. The students are great. My relationships with them have been pretty well what I want: one of being supportive to their learning, while giving direction when needed, and establishing a direction for them to go. 

For marking, giving feedback in an important part of some students' learning. Including a few comments to help them understand why or where they lost marks is always good, as well as a few suggestions as to what could be done better in the future. 

Finding a way to manage myself and my emotions and nerves has been the best way to relax into and have fun with TAing. Overall, my stress level as tutorials approach has gone way, way down, and I very much look forward to seeing my students. 

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