Consider goal of TA Project

Letter to the editor

I would like to respond to the “Teaching assistants weigh in on experiences” article published in the Daily Targum on February 6. I appreciate that the author would endeavor to write an article about TAs at Rutgers, but I was hoping for an article with a broader and more balanced perspective when he asked if he could sit in on my workshop. Unfortunately, I think the workshop — and in particular, the case studies and anecdotes — seem to have become the focus of this piece, and the larger perspective was obfuscated, making it hard to see the proverbial forest, for all the trees.

The TA Project (TAP) organized this workshop. TAP is an initiative of the Graduate School, New Brunswick, which is designed to promote high-quality instruction by facilitating professional development activities among graduate students who are TAs or course instructors. The workshop I led is designed to help students develop effective strategies, both generic and specific, to handle interruptions and disruptions in an instructional environment. Although the facts of the author’s article are correct, modulo a few minor interpolations and misquotations, the workshop was not a blooper reel of student antics, nor was it an opportunity to share these antics or provide superficial commentary about them. The article seems to skim that top layer of the discussion, anecdotes and case studies, without really contextualizing how or why the workshop addresses these issues. I was thoroughly surprised to find such a shallow analysis of the workshop, doubly so when I realized the workshop was the only source material for “an article about life as a TA,” as I was told, considering the workshop’s extremely narrow focus.

The discussion-based workshop examined how and why disruptions exist, how to hone in on these issues, how to effectively moderate disruptions in a classroom, deflecting or diminishing distraction and interruption, and how to follow up effectively to the benefit of the students in question, even those from whom the disruption originates. The hit parade of student gaffes and goofs does not do any justice to the in-depth discussion regarding how to address the needs of the student creating the disruption (and the rest of the class), by identifying the underlying issue and resolving it in an effective and positive way.

These skills, and many others, are important to graduate students, especially those who hope to find jobs in higher education and to continue to develop their skills as educators. This is the reason TAP organizes workshops, seminars, courses, and more to help train future faculty. And, to contradict the author directly, these are not challenges exclusive to inexperienced or unpracticed TAs; indeed, they are the challenges facing instructors of all ranks and experiences in every learning environment. The goal of the workshop is to help prepare graduate students for jobs as faculty by teaching them skills that they will require throughout their careers, no matter how experienced they are.

Kellen Myers is a teaching assistant in the Department of Mathematics.

By Kellen Myers

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