My big new behavior for the coming semester is that I’ll be working as a teaching assistant (for those unfamiliar with the system: at the university level TAs are graduate students who handle some portion of the instruction for classes). It had been mentioned to me several months ago that I might be asked to TA EE281 (the basic digital logic lab at UK) this semester, but because no one ever got back to me, I thought they had found a PhD student to do it. Last Tuesday I got a note that in fact it hadn’t been resolved, and, not knowing it had been previously mentioned to me, asking I would be willing to TA. It isn’t ideal; It ruins my perfect “Class only on T/R afternoon” schedule in a big way, one of the lab sections has an awkward little overlap with one of my classes (which I’m told will be worked around), and handling 3 lab sections will be a fair amount of work but I agreed anyway. Its good for the CV, its good departmental sucking up, it pays significantly more than my living expenses, and most importantly, its an experience I would like to have early on since I’m seriously looking at a career in academia. Monday I find out exactly what I’ll be doing from the faculty member running the course; I suspect I will be handling the lab sections and most of the grading, but not much of the lectures/lab design, which should be good for easing in. I might see about doing a little bit of the other parts as well just for the experience.
Before you are allowed to TA, the university requires an orientation. Said orientation took up Thursday and Friday, 8:30A-4:00p, far longer than was actually needed for the amount of content, despite being shorter than the summer version. I’m glad for the orientation, and learned a lot of valuable information, but some of the material the first day was pretty bad; things with as much BS in them as the ed-psych people usually only say “moo.” The good stuff from the first day included the obmbud information session (ass-covering rules, syllabus constraints, etc.), and we had a fairly solid setup for the microteaching exercise. The second day started two hours late due to weather, and was improved for it. The morning was a quick procession of presentations on rules, regulations, recommendations, and resources both for TAs to use ourselves and to refer students to, which did include the joke worthy “Rules about sleeping with your students.” The latter half of the second day was spent running and group critiquing our microteach lessons, and everyone in my room did quite well, definitely better than some of the instructors I’ve had. For my session I ran a 7-minute math-free version of the “Know your parts” style lesson on Light Emitting Diodes, at the hobbyist/beginning EE student level. Even the people who didn’t have the background to completely follow seemed to think my technique was good, and I’m not too embarrassed watching the video now (Things I see now that no one commented on: I made a few dumb omissions to keep time, and looked at my note page too often), so I probably did a reasonable job. I’ll grant that the microteaching system is a good way of vetting and improving teaching ability, and I tend to be quite skeptical of meta-education.
Some of the anecdotal content was pretty useful as well. There were TWO versions of lessons on not being bullied by football players and other large entitled people, because it is apparently that much of an issue. It was also interesting to hear from people already TAing; one of the existing TAs who has been teaching Chemistry 105, which is gigantic and incredibly hostile (its the scraper course kids who mistakenly think they are pre-med), had a lot of good questions on classroom management, particularly with regard to cheating and hissy fits by students that brought up lots of useful information.
As an additional source of irrational excitement, I get one of those nifty blue-flap UK Graduate School messenger bags, which I’ve always really liked for some reason.
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There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.— John Rogers
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