I have a great deal of respect for teaching assistants. In the past three years I’ve had several, and I’ve loved some, and hated some. Nonetheless, I respect them. The relationship between students and TAs is weird, because the roles converge probably more than they should. Our TAs are also students, so they know what it feels like to take more than just their class, since they’re taking a full course load as well as teaching. But, more often than not, I feel like I’m teaching my TA. Sometimes, it’s just reminding them that we need a review session before an upcoming test, asking when we’re getting grades back, or whether or not they’re going to show up for their office hours. Other times, it’s reminding them what my name is six weeks into the semester, or even wondering which of the two or three TAs is grading my work because I’ve never even interacted with them.
In any case, the student-TA relationship should be give and take. As a student, I’m supposed to come to class, I’m supposed to turn in all my work on time, and I’m supposed to engage with the material (whatever that means). But, why should I hold up my end of the bargain if they aren’t? I can’t blame a TA for not knowing what students want from them, which is why these are some of the things I’d tell my TA if I ever got the chance (or found out who they are).
Let Me Bring My Coffee
You know what it feels like to be exhausted. Don’t be that teacher that won’t let me quietly eat my bagel in class, or won’t allow anything other than water during class meetings. I’m willing to bet you’re just as tired as I am, and I see you with your caffeine. Don’t rob me of mine.
Get to Know Me
This might not matter to some students, but I don’t feel comfortable approaching a teacher about a paper I’m writing or how to study for a test if you don’t know anything about me. It doesn’t take much to ask me ‘what’s up?’ or ‘what other classes are you taking?’ before class starts or when I come to office hours. I’m not asking you to have a heart-to-heart, but knowing who I am at least academically will make me more likely to come to you for help.
You’re Still My Teacher
At the end of the day, you still are determining a big part of my grade. Give me feedback, make me work hard, and expect things from me. If I’m not turning things in, ask about the work I’m missing. If I’m not coming to class, email me and ask where I’ve been. If I struggled on a particular assignment, tell me why, not just what my grade is. I’m not going to get better if you don’t help me!
Let Me Know You’re There
Depending on the class, there may not be a breakdown session where I get to talk to you. But when the class is reviewing for a final or working on a paper, email us and let us know you’re here to help if we need it! If I need help, I want to know I’m asking the right person, and that the person is available to help me. I’m not saying clear your schedule, but I don’t want to feel like I’m annoying you.
Let Some Things Go (But Not That Much)
Be understanding. Sometimes I need an extension. Sometimes I sleep through my alarm and miss class. Like you’ve never done that before? Life happens, and professors with busy schedules and meetings don’t understand the way you probably do. Give me a break and I’ll give you one, too! But, if you haven’t seen me in a month, or I’ve had a life-threatening illness impeding me from attending every exam, you should probably call me out for that.
I Respect You (And Like You)
I consider you a teacher. You’re responsible for evaluating my progress in class and it’s important to me that you know that. I don’t consider you a ‘fake teacher’ or expect to get an easy A because you’ve never taught a class before. I’m coming prepared to work, and that sucks sometimes, but it’s okay. It’s tempting to assume you’re just like me, but you’re not. And I know that.
TAs are more like students than any other professor you will have. They’re closer in age and they’re still learning themselves. I don’t hate them and I don’t judge them. I might even want to be one someday! There’s only so much that workshops on how to engage a class (taught by other professors) can teach you about working with college students. So to all the TAs, present and future: help your students help you, and you’ll get more than just a really good course evaluation.