Tuesday, November 22, 2016

TA-ships and what they can offer in return

 As part of this post, Jasmeer has sent along the view from his desk (pictured above).
By Jasmeer Sangha
Part of becoming a graduate student entails taking on some teaching duties. When first offered positions, I wanted to make sure my assignments would allow me to interact with the students face-to-face. I’ve had experiences both teaching a class and being solely a marking TA, and the sum of my experiences have taught me that the prior is more favourable.

In my final year of undergrad, I was presented with the opportunity to teach a tutorial section. This experience taught me that a team of students is needed to ensure a class is run properly. The team would meet once a week to go over the topics that were to be taught in the upcoming tutorials. These hour-long sessions would consist of all the TAs solving the quizzes we would be handing out to our students, and sorting out any ambiguous terms or statements in the provided tutorial slides. It was particularly challenging to coordinate the content students were taught in lectures versus what we, the tutorial leads, had planned to discuss with them. This was my first experience teaching individuals that were not close friends or family asking for assistance. I noticed that one must approach issues from a very different angle being an authority figure representing an institution, as opposed to a peer who is giving a helping hand. Having the responsibility of strengthening and contributing to these students’ education was a new feeling for me.

During my first semester at York University I was given a marking teaching assistantship. The marking TA-ship essentially entails receiving copious amounts of quizzes or tests a couple times during the semester and handing back students’ grades. I see how these TA-ships are valued by some, due to the ability to get work done at home or in your office without the hassle of human interaction. However, I noticed that not knowing the students behind the papers removed the human elements of the name and penmanship I saw. Perhaps this allowed me to more fairly grade papers based on facts written down versus what I think that student was trying to express. I found myself missing the personal connection between an instructor and student, which I had experienced the previous year. 

Come the beginning of the fall semester, I wanted to make sure I got a TA-ship that let me be more involved in the educational experience of students. I had experienced both marking and running tutorials so I decided to try out lab classes. I got the opportunity to teach three different labs from two different courses. Once again these labs would be preceded by TA meetings ensuring we all understood and could clearly communicate concepts in these labs. From where I sit, these are by far the most work due to the prep work, hours of in-class time followed by marking labs after class. Though this might just be due to how I perceive the distribution of hours over a term and through different tasks in respect to the different positions. Despite the work load, this semester has by far been the most fun and rewarding. I feel that the openness and casual environments associated with lab periods really compliment my teaching style. There is nothing more satisfying than giving these fresh students small trips and tricks I’ve acquired over years of practical work and watching them piece together these puzzles set out by the lab instructor.

When I decided to continue studying after finishing my Bachelors degree it was in part my eagerness to continue teaching. I had had a taste of it and was sure that teaching was something I wanted in my future for a long time; I’m glad that feeling has not faded. Research is undoubtedly the primary objective for my next few years but having the privilege to give these young, bright minds a sample of the intricate web that is physics will not be squandered.

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