Mythbusters: Teaching Assistant Edition.

Last week, we shared a moment about tutorials, and briefly mentioned that they are usually run by Teaching Assistants (TAs). What exactly a TA is can be elusive to most students, and I think it's important to spend a few minutes together this week to talk about TAs and bust some myths.

Meme of a walrus who looks like Mythbuster's Jamie Hyneman saying "Father, I 'myth' you" to Jamie.

Over the past few weeks, I've been meeting with some of the folks at the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation (CTSI) and the Teaching Assistant's Training Program (TATP), and students and TAs, to find out what exactly is the deal with TAs. So, without further ado, onto the mythbusting:

           1. TAs are Good Bags Screenshot of a google search, where "Teaching Assistants are" is autocompleted as "Good bags" and "Great bag"

Contrary to popular belief, most TAs are actually human beings, and most of those are graduate students at the university.

2. TAs are only there for the money It's true that TAs get paid to do their jobs (would you grade a few hundred papers for free?), and that often falls as part of their funding packages. But, most TAs are there teaching because they're big ol' nerds who love what they're teaching!

Think of it this way: most of your TAs are graduate students, studying things in graduate school, at one of the best universities in the world. This means they are some of the most passionate students in the world about what they're studying, and they probably really want you to study and love it too.

3. TAs know everything It would be great if TAs knew everything, but here's a secret: they usually don't. Many TAs are first year grad students, meaning that they haven't taken many more classes than you might have. Some of them have never even taught before. The truth is, TAs don't know everything, and are constantly worried about how to engage students in the classroom, how to answer questions they don't know the answer to, and how to help students learn. They're there to learn with you.

4. TAs are only there to teach and grade Nope! If you tuned in last week, you'll recall that tutorials are supposed to be about engaging with material, not just learning even more. TAs are there to help foster your engagement with the material, and help build understanding: not to teach twice.

5. TAs don't care whether you succeed Go back and read the last four myths getting busted: TAs are big ol' nerds, who used to be undergraduates like you not so many years ago. If you ask anyone at the CTSI or the TATP, they'll tell you that grad students are constantly asking questions about how they can improve their teaching skills, and how they can best help students to do better. TAs are not robots, they are not good bags: they are people who are passionate about teaching and about helping you.

So there you go: myths busted. Have any other myths to bust? Queries about TAs? Let me know. Until then, my thanks must go out to all those with the CTSI and TATP who let me pester them for this post and last week's: Bethany Osborne (TATP Tutorials Training Coordinator), Megan Burnett (Assistant Director of CTSI/TATP), Michelle Majeed (TA; Course Instructor Training Coordinator), and Elliot Storm (TA; Microteaching Training Coordinator). See you next week!

*** Is your TA doing a great job? Consider nominating them for a TATP Teaching Excellence Award! Nominations open November 17th.

Have other questions about TAs, or myths you'd like busted? Let me know in the comments!


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