It was six years ago that I found myself in a small room on the 4th floor of a dark gray building on our university campus. With me, seated around the table, were a few other students, all of us undergoing the one hour mandatory TA prep class. Our instructor, a very old, librarian-type woman, with her hair in a bun (with a pin to boot) and sporting huge glasses, told us about cultural sensitivity, multimedia presentations and understanding marking schemes. Then came the issue of sexual harrassment.
"Yes, yes." I thought, bored. "See a pretty girl in your class. Remember you are the TA. Be good. Or get sued. Easy."
".. so in other words, this is how you can deal with if you are sexually harrassed," the instructor was saying.
Wait a minute, I thought. Someone is going to try and harrass me?
I actually said so. It was one of those times when my mouth has a mind of its own and goes motoring off before I can raise my hand and clamp it shut.
The instructor just peered at me, her glasses magnifying her eyes, and said "Well, sir, when you become an instructor you are in a position of power."
O-kay. I relegated that fact to the back of my mind. Although being an introvert, and raised in the middle east, by my second year of college I was the editor of the paper, president of the local chapter of Bangladesh Students Association, member of our intramural cricket team, and bonafide volunteer for the Co-op Students Association. I was sure I could handle, um, girls. However, it took ten minutes after my first class ended that I encountered the TPWs.
TPWs are Teacher's Pet Wannabes. They are usually of the feminine gender. They smile at the teacher at all times (even at 8 am morning classes), sit on the first row, and then follow the teacher to the office, where they engage in useless discussions of the mundane. One of them may throw a mandatory question of why I supercast an object in line 10 of the sample code, but that would be it for the hour. Their objective - the instructor should know their name (and their "friendly" nature) when grading the papers, and thus be lenient.
In university, the secret is that for most courses, the TAs grade the papers, not the professors. Thus in first week of classes, the TAs don't get the attention of TPWs; it's only after the first assignment that TPWs become aware of the TA. However, I was teaching Intro to Computer Science to a class of business students who were presumably smarter than the rest of the freshmen.
Ten minutes after my first class ended, I was sitting in the cafeteria along with a friend.
"There you are," Said the first of the TPWs. She was an extremely tall, svelte, Spanish girl [as an aside I don't know why the US has a problem with Latina immigration - just restrict the men and let the women come]. "I was wondering what your name meant. It's such an exotic name."
This, coming from a person whose name was Guiconda Anna Maria Lopez or something like that.
The next one was even more blunt.
"You teach really well." Said the Indian chick. "I was in the other tutorial and I could hardly follow the TA. Ebhen his accentt was baaaad."
"You should be the prof." This was after the second week, when I had announced assignments were due and I was going to mark them.
I taught two classes, each twice a week. Of the combined 60 or so students, only 9 were guys. 3 were a sign of Qiyamat (or in other words, I couldn't tell their gender). The rest - all girls. Ofcourse all the attention lasted only four weeks until I had returned two assignments, graded.
I actually got an email from the prof - "I was checking the marks from various tutorials and your marks are closest to what the average should be - which implies you are neither marking too harshly nor too leniently. Keep it up."
Ofcourse the TPWs didn't see it that way. However, I had a marking scheme and I followed it rigorously. "Cold fish," I imagine what one of them would call me behind my back.
Ultimately, what was most rewarding about my TAship for two years was not the money (though it was very, very good) but the fact that at the end of the term my professor called me up to the office.
She pointed at a bunch of papers.
"These are your class evaluations. This is how I decide which TA to hire. Look at yours."
They were anonymously filled, ofcourse, but I recognized some of the handwritings in the 'other comments' section.
Not one single bad comment. All of them were highly satisfied with my teaching. Most had ticked the 'excellent' box, some had even written 'should TA more courses'. Ultimately, the TPWs decided to hang on in my class, and recommend me, not because of my marks, but because of how I taught. And when I recall my TA days, as I now begin the process of applying for further studies and think of reapplying to be a TA again, the fact that I most enjoyed about TAing was the teaching, the challenge, and ultimately the fact that some of my former students still mantain contact with me.
Though, sadly, not Ms. Lopez.
Tags: TA Teaching