A Day in the LifeMost students have worked with a Teacher’s Assistant before. What exactly is it like being one?
Anyone who has been in a large lecture class knows a teacher’s assistant, usually referred to as a TA, recognizes their importance at Hunter College. TA’s can make a class more interesting or more torturous depending on their disposition, but what is it like to actually do the job? Kristina Fabijanic, a TA for CHEM 102 and 104, was happy to tell The Envoy about her job.
Fabijanic became a TA in the fall of 2007, when she was also a lab instructor for CHEM 106. According to Fabijanic, all chemistry graduate students are required not only to conduct research and complete the necessary course requirements for their Ph.D, but also work as a TA. Fabijanic in particular assists Dr. William V. Sweeney, the professor of CHEM 102 and 104, with making copies of all his exams, submitting the scantron sheets after exams, processing the exam and iclicker grades onto blackboard, and teaching recitation workshops, as well as grading all the work given out. She also must hold office hours every week to answer any questions students may have.
Fabijanic is the head TA for Dr. Sweeney’s class, which comes with additional responsibilities. As head TA, she sends out emails to students regularly to give out important announcements, let them know of certain office hours and to remind them of upcoming exams.
As a TA, Fabijanic has heard many excuses from countless students before, but there is one that sticks out in her memory, “There was a small rain storm the night before and a student wrote me an email saying she would not be able to attend class that day because she couldn’t open the door to her house to go outside.” At first, this sounded too absurd not to be true. Unfortunately for this student, Fabijanic saw her later that day in the hallway. Though this was a pathetic excuse, Fabijanic is still happy at the creativity involved: it wasn’t a “dog ate my homework.”
Many people consider becoming a TA every semester. What advice does Fabijanic have to them? First, she emphasized that that being a TA is a very demanding job. “It takes a lot of patience and [it takes a long time to] understand how to get through to students who come from all different kinds of backgrounds of learning.” Fabijanic said that the hardest part of the job is keeping the recitation workshops interesting to those that already understand the material, while at the same time helping those who do not understand the material as well.
Almost all large lectures at Hunter are served by at least one TA, often times more than that. This vital part of the community arose as CUNY moved away from having many professors and towards having more assistants and adjuncts. Students around campus seem to generally agree; TAs are a useful addition to lecture classes that can make complex material taught by an overtaxed professor into interesting personalized lessons.
Unsurprisingly, Fabijanic said that, “[Being a TA] definitely wears you out, especially after explaining the same problem or idea time after time.” Just like professors, TA’s deal with those students who constantly ask questions already asked and must patiently repeat their explanations time and again. Even though this is tiring, it is worth it in the end. Fabijanic believes the most rewarding part of all is “finally seeing the light bulb come on” in a student’s head. Not everyone in CHEM 102 and 104 will end up with an A in the class or develop a love for Chemistry, but as long as Fabijanic feels that she has been able to reach out to one person and make a profound impact on their studies and lives, it makes it all worth it in the end.