In the final installment of our three-part series on students’ campus work experiences, The Record writer Cullen Trobec looks at the inside roles of teaching assistants.
By Cullen Trobec
Behind the majority of academic departments is a support staff of student teaching assistants that make sure each professor has the help they need to give every student the best learning experience possible.
Over 200 students work as teaching assistants, ranging from just a few in some departments to over two dozen in others, making the job one of the largest
sources of student employment across both campuses. Their primary objective is to help professors with the running of their courses.
Teaching assistants, commonly referred to as TAs, typically work between six and 12 hours per week depending on the week and the tasks they are
expected to complete. Unlike RAs and dining services employees, the duties of teaching assistants can vary, as well as the courses they help teach.
Some TAs are assigned a specific professor or class to pair up with, while others are assigned to help departments as a whole. Duties vary from simply helping grade everyday assignments to actually assisting in course instruction itself.
The biology department ranks as one of the largest sources of teaching assistant
employment, currently employing 24 full- time TAs. St. Benedict junior Alison Stiller is a first time TA for Biology 101 Lab.
“I’m assigned to help students during their lab section and expected to do the grading of their lab assignments, as well as go to a prep meeting every week,” Stiller said.
For Stiller, balancing her job as a TA is relatively easy given that she’s a biology major herself.
“I’ve always been used to having my own biology lab each semester, so my time being a TA isn’t more time than I used to spend in the lab myself,” Stiller said.
Stiller cites her relationship with her professor and the improvement in her communication and teaching skills as the most valuable things she’s gained from her experience.
“Learning how to relay the knowledge I know onto other students is really useful. Because it’s one thing to understand material, but it’s another thing to be able to teach it,” Stiller said.
However, being a hands-on TA isn’t without its challenges.
“It’s a lot of thinking on my feet, and I don’t know if students always recognize that,” Stiller pointed out. “It also gives me a perspective on how difficult grading is, because I want to be fair but I also don’t want to be too easy.”
St. John’s senior Chancie Hanson is a teaching assistant in the Accounting Department under Professor Boz Bostrum. His primary jobs include tutoring and helping create class assignments.
“I’m there for homework help during tutoring sessions, and I also make homework assignments for my professor’s tax class,” Hanson said.
Hanson also highlights being a TA as not just a chance to help teach others, but as way to continue his own education.
“When I’m making an assignment it’s kind of cool to basically learn that material all over again, because often there will be little things I may have forgotten about from those earlier classes,” Hanson said.
St. Ben’s junior Ally Nelson is one of four TAs in the French department. Unlike most classes, students in the class Nelson assists are required to go to regular tutoring sessions.
“It’s a very flexible thing and I enjoy working with the students,” Nelson said.
Like Hanson, she notes the convenience of not only helping others learn, but continuing to learn herself.
“It’s been nice to keep up with my French, Nelson said. “Also, the communication skills that I’ve gotten working with students have been really beneficial as just general life skills.”
TAs are able to individually learn new things and refresh forgotten skills, while also ensuring that professors and students alike have the assistance they need to make it through the semester as smoothly as possible.