Ever since my freshman year, have been one of my favorite parts of Street (Ed. note: bye bye Shoutouts). Every time the biannual issue comes out, I pore through it, hoping to find a juicy reference to decipher or a Shoutout I wrote to friends. Last fall, before I could even open the Shoutouts issue for myself, my friends bombarded me with texts about a Shoutout that they thought was about me. It read: “To my hot blonde Econ TA: It would be pareto optimal for us to hook up.”
I started working as a Teacher’s Assistant for Introductory Microeconomics in the fall of my junior year. After a year of working as an Econ tutor, I realized that I absolutely loved working with students and wanted the opportunity to get more involved. From my own experience, I knew that having a caring and helpful TA could make or break a class, so I decided that becoming an Econ TA would be the best way for me to make an impact.
As a TA, I was responsible for holding two recitation sections a week for groups of 25 students each, in addition to holding office hours and review sessions and grading homework. I quickly realized that the job was a lot more work than I originally thought, as I spent a considerable amount of time outside the classroom preparing for recitations and review sessions and answering student’s questions. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how respectful and engaged my students were, and I quickly found that I didn’t mind spending extra time helping my students, as it was incredibly rewarding work.
As an undergraduate TA, some of my students were friends and former teammates, while others were juniors and seniors, meaning that a few of my students were a year above me. At times, this was awkward. There were instances when I would be standing in line at Smokes' and a student would uncomfortably announce, “Hey! Aren’t you my Econ TA?” as if I didn’t have a life outside the two hours a week that I taught. On other occasions, boys would ask me for my opinion on one of my freshman students who was rushing their frat (I never understood what I was supposed to say to this: "I don’t know, he struggles with the concept of supply and demand?") Once, a few days after the first midterm, a freshman approached me at a party and asked if I knew what his grade was yet.
Working as a TA made me more grateful for my own TAs. The same semester I started working, I took a challenging statistical programming course. Many students, including myself, relied extensively on the TA for help understanding the material and problem sets. The TA for this course went above and beyond: holding extra office hours, review sessions, and meetings with students one–on–one. Before becoming a TA, I didn’t have an appreciation for the fact that my TAs were students themselves, which meant they were also balancing classes, extracurriculars, and job searches. Moreover, I didn’t appreciate that the TA is not responsible for holding additional office hours and review sessions, but chooses to do so in an effort to help their students.
That semester, I found myself increasingly irritated with how some students treated the TA in my class. Students were rightfully frustrated by the pace of the course, but I felt many didn’t realize that they were taking out their frustrations on someone who had absolutely no control over the course material, pace, or schedule. I often found myself defending the TA for this class when my peers complained, reminding them that she was going out of her way to hold extra sessions to help us.
I’m still not convinced that the Shoutout about the “hot blonde Econ TA” was about me; it could have just as easily been about the handsome blonde male TA that I worked with. Either way, it quickly gained attention after the professor I worked for included a revised, more appropriate version as part of a question on her final exam. Of course, the professor asked if I was comfortable with her including the shoutout in the exam (that conversation was just as awkward as you’d imagine).
Despite the sometimes awkward and frustrating aspects of working as a TA, it was an incredibly fun learning experience. Of the lessons I learned, there are two I feel compelled to pass on to my fellow students: 1. Be empathetic and appreciative towards your TAs! They are also trying to balance school, work, and extracurriculars and are likely doing the best they can to help. As I learned firsthand, a quick thank–you email at the end of the semester could make your TA’s day. 2. If you’re going to write a shoutout for your TA referencing a concept you learned in class, make sure you actually understand the concept (newsflash, anonymous Shoutout author: it would NOT be pareto optimal for us to hook up).