So, I thought I would write a little bit about all the wonderful things my students have taught me over the last two semesters. Sure, I taught them about genetics, but I would argue they taught me more about their world, my abilities, and how to make the most out of even the worst situations.
- You’re not teaching yourself
A lot of them have very different goals than you probably did! Some of them have their hearts set on a job after college, some on professional school, and some might not know yet (that’s OK too!). But it’s important not to expect your students to behave like you, because they are not you. And while graduate students notoriously hold themselves to very high standards, it’s important that, while you try to push your students to learn and better themselves, you’re not holding them to the same crazy high standards that you hold yourself to.
- When you are friends with your students, they’ll learn more
However, that sense of power shouldn’t stop you from connecting with your students just because you know more than they do. It’s still important that they know you are a person they can talk to about things in the class they’re finding difficult, and no one wants to talk to a person who always acts high-and-mighty and smarter than everyone! They want to be able to talk to you about things they don’t get because, theoretically, TA’s should be less intimidating to talk to than professors. So, we have to keep it that way. Be friendlier with your students, rather than strict and cold, and I promise that teaching them will get easier (and their grades might get better, too!).
- Emails are weird, sometimes
I figured out this goes along with being friendly—when your students trust you more like a friend than a teacher, they email you as if they are texting you. I think as time goes on, this will happen more and more as students enter college who have always had access to phones and texting. And this isn’t a bad thing! Again, it’s about them being comfortable enough with you to admit to a gap in knowledge they have, and then being receptive to an answer.
- It’s OK to have fun in class
Instead, on this day of long wait-steps, we all wound up having a paper airplane contest. I don’t even remember how it got started, but one kid made a paper airplane and tossed it, and suddenly the whole class was into it. It was easy because they weren’t throwing the airplanes at anything or anyone—they were just enjoying something together without violating social distancing protocols. At the end they cleaned everything up, put the airplanes away, and got back to work.
So, if you find you have a playful class, and you need to kill time, let them play! It never hurts, and especially during COVID-times, I think we could all use a good impromptu paper airplane contest or two.
- As a TA, you can actually make a big impact on the kids you teach….
- ….and they might just make a big impact on you.
The people who have made me feel the most like I’m doing the right thing, and like I belong in graduate school, are my students. As much as you, their TA, support them in their learning, they support you too by telling you that you’re doing a good job, or by understanding your explanations, or sometimes just by opening their eyes a little wider when something you say clicks and suddenly, they know how to do their homework. It’s a feeling I don’t even have words to describe when something you say finally makes sense to a student who was struggling with a concept, and it’s that feeling that has made me more confident in myself as a graduate student. My time TA-ing and my students have taught me confidence in my abilities in a way I don’t think any other experience could have, and I’m so grateful for that.
- Serina Taluja
Serina is a doctoral student in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences.