Monday, January 23, 2012

The Learning Curve of a TA

I have recently sat in with some first years and asked them to take stock of their first semester as a TA.  As a second year, I have seen a lot of weird stuff, but something new always comes up.  Talking about it is cathartic sometimes.  My first semester was not routine - but almost no one's is.  I envy the students who have nothing but multiple choice exams and normal students, but that was not my first semester experience.

I TA'ed for Prof A my first semester in a class I had absolutely no interest in.  It's the introductory course for the major and a required course for every student who graduates in the state.  I had almost 100 students, four exams - all essays - and as my first semester of TA'ing went, it was insane.  That said, I loved the prof and his carefree attitude.  It wasn't a smooth ride, though.  There was definitely a learning curve with my students, who were memorable to say the least.

In a class with 400 students and 5 TA's - 3 half time, 2 quarter time (half the students we had) - one TA is bound to have more problem students than the others.  That TA was me.  The first exam I ever forsaw, a student who behaved erratically stood up in the middle of the exam, launched towards the lecture stage in the front of the hall, and started saying, "I have an announcement to make!"  We asked her to calm down but she tried to push me down.  Prof A, who is a rather substantial person at 6'4'' or so, tried to restrain her and she fought so hard that she almost took him down.  He hauled her into the corridor outside that stood between a stairwell and the outside door.  The students erupted.  There is nothing like seeing 400 freshman freaking out over their first exam.  Imagine on top of that veritable chaos.

The other TA's and myself tried to calm the students, but this was difficult, as the student was now screaming obscenities at Prof X in the stairwell.  Soon after, the police arrived.  I wish I was kidding.  She was escorted out and everything calmed down.  According to one other student who was on her floor, the cops had been called on her 4 times in the past 3 days.  Drugs may have played a role.  Prof A finished up the exam with us and we all left the hall.  As we were, a reporter who had been listening to the police scanner arrived.  Welcome to a world-class journalism school, I guess.

So yes, the police were called during the exam and I was interviewed on this matter about this student.  I couldn't say anything, of course.  No sharing info about a student who has been named, etc.  But yeah, that was what set the tone for my first semester of TA-ship.  

The first years didn't have stories to top that, thankfully, although they identified student problems that were terrible - cheating, plaigarism.  It's "run of the mill" unfortunately.


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