Last quarter Alexis and I had the pleasure of TAing “Ecology” taught by Kabir Peay. It was a fun and exhausting experience, as anyone who has ever taught a class can likely tell you. This was my second time TAing (I had taught Bio 43 in the spring of 2012) but I can honestly say I learned as much, if not more, from TAing a second time. For those of you about to TA or any undergrads who happen to be reading this blog, I offer the following insights:
1) TAs really want their students to do well. (I am sure this is even true of organic chemistry TAs.) We get really excited when people get full points on a question; it means the students learned something and (hopefully) we’re doing our jobs well.
2) Lectures take WAY longer than you would think to prepare. To all of my professors who ever got the powerpoint slides up the night before the lecture, you are amazing. (For reference, after reading the chapter, looking up some supplementary material and deciding on a rough outline of my lecture, it still took me 10 hours to prepare the powerpoint… on a topic closely related to my dissertation research.)
3) It is really hard to write good test questions. No matter how hard you try, someone will inevitably interpret your question in a completely different way than you ever thought they would. … And it will be hard to grade.
4) People will learn more and be less bored if you give them an activity to do than if you lecture at them. Doing problems in section is more fun for everyone than a lecture redux.
5) Undergrads are awesome. There’s nothing like a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed student at office hours to make you remember why you decided to put up with experiment failure, grant writing and ambiguous work-life balance in the first place. Especially at a place like Stanford, the undergrads are really fascinating people with interesting hobbies and talents. (If you’re lucky enough to be on a three hour car drive with them you find out fun things like your 6’2” blonde male student does an amazingly faithful rendition of Nicki Minaj’s “Superbass.”)
6) Did I mention the entire endeavor takes a lot of time? It does but it’s worth it.
I am very excited to TA again in the spring, this time for Paul Ehrlich. In the meantime, it’ll be great to have time to get some other stuff done. To all the TAs and professors out there, I salute you.
- Hannah Frank (@hannahkfrank)